Food & dining

The confident cook

Roast a whole cauliflower, cut it into wedges, and serve with a knockout agrodolce sauce

Sally Pasley Vargas for The Boston Globe

A whole roasted cauliflower is beautiful to behold, and it becomes a knockout party dish served with this agrodolce sauce. Agrodolce, the Italian version of a sweet-and-sour sauce, uses raisins and honey for sweetness and vinegar for the sour element. Capers, celery, leeks, and roasted peppers — here we use yellow peppers from a jar; you can also use red — add to the flavors. It can be served with fish, vegetables, or pork chops, so it’s a terrific sauce to have in your tool kit.

Roasting a whole head of cauliflower doesn’t take a lot of effort, but you can’t just stick it in the oven and set the timer. Beforehand, you need to steam it for a few minutes on top of the stove to soften it, so you end up with an orb that is tender in the middle and gloriously golden on the outside. Once the cauliflower browns, remove it from the oven and let it cool briefly on a cutting board. Make the sauce while the cauliflower is roasting, then cut the cauliflower into quarters or wedges and serve warm or at room temperature smothered in the pretty sauce.
SALLY PASLEY VARGAS

Whole roasted cauliflower
with agrodolce sauce

Serves 4

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CAULIFLOWER

Olive oil (for the baking sheet)
1head cauliflower
Salt and pepper, to taste
3tablespoons olive oil

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1. Set the oven at 400 degrees. Lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet.

2. Remove and discard the large outer leaves of the cauliflower, but keep some of the smaller leaves, which become deliciously crispy in the oven. With a large knife, trim the stem flush with the bottom of the head so the cauliflower sits flat when upright and the stem remains intact.

3. In a deep skillet or wide saucepan over high heat -- the cauliflower should fit into it with space around it so you can lift it out — bring ½-inch of salted water to a boil. Lower the cauliflower into the pan, stem side down. Lower the heat to a gentle boil. Cover with a lid, or use 2 to 3 pieces of foil to make a dome over the cauliflower, pinching the edges to secure them to the rim of the skillet.

4. Steam the cauliflower for 8 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle shows some resistance. It will not be cooked through.

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5. With 2 large spatulas or large metal spoons, lift the cauliflower from the pan and transfer it to the baking sheet. Brush with the oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through cooking, or until the cauliflower is golden brown. Transfer to a cutting board to cool briefly.

SAUCE

2tablespoons olive oil
1leek (light green and white parts), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
2stalks celery, cut into small dice
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1large plum tomato, cut into small dice
¼cup golden raisins
1teaspoon honey
2roasted yellow bell pepper halves from a jar or can, cut into small dice
1heaping tablespoon capers
¼cup white wine or chicken stock
1tablespoon white wine vinegar
2tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1. In a medium skillet over medium-low heat, heat the oil. Add the leek, celery, salt, and black pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes, or until soft but not brown.

2. Add the tomato, raisins, honey, bell pepper, capers, wine or stock, and vinegar to the skillet. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes, or until the raisins soften. Taste for seasoning and add more honey, vinegar, salt, and black pepper, if you like.

3. Cut the cauliflower into quarters or smaller wedges and spoon the sauce over them. Sprinkle with parsley. Sally Pasley Vargas

Sally Pasley Vargas can be reached at sally.p.vargas@gmail.com.