You read that right. Lemon brown butter breadcrumbs. Can you think of any other possible word combinations that manage to sound even half as heavenly? I have been sitting here for the better part of ten minutes, trying to think of something clever to offer up as a possible contender, and my mind is totally blank. Lemon brown butter breadcrumbs have become my new best friend.
As it turns out, lemon brown butter breadcrumbs are incredibly friendly little fellows, because they just so happen to be the perfect companion for roasted cauliflower, one of my all-time favorite vegetable side dishes. The simplicity of roasted cauliflower is nearly perfect on its own, but when paired with a sprinkling of deeply flavorful, crunchy, and nutty breadcrumbs, cauliflower rises to a whole new level of distinction. It’s a good lesson for me, really. Just when I think that I know exactly how I like a certain food to be, something new appears that completely changes the way I look at a food. Roasted cauliflower by itself is wonderful, but baked in a gratin or dotted with crispy breadcrumbs, it’s even better.
It’s no mistake that I am publishing this recipe this week, when people all over the country are getting ready to fire up their stoves and partake in a day-long marathon of cooking, baking, basting, and then, thankfully, eating. I have long thought that the very best part of Thanksgiving dinner is not the plates of meat that sit proudly at the head of a table, but rather the small plates and bowls that surround said meat. Eating a holiday meal made almost entirely out of side dishes is the most special of meals, in my mind, almost like an American version of tapas. What? Too much of a stretch? Mashed potatoes and bread-based dressing a little too far away from Spain to make that connection? All right, I agree. To a point. But, still, sit down to a serving of this heavenly cauliflower, a scoop or two of something savory and oh-so-autumnal, and a glass of wine, and it’s tough to muster up any reason why a meal shouldn’t be centered around a dish as fine as this one.
Last Year: Pear and Chocolate Bread Pudding
Roasted Cauliflower with Pine Nuts and Lemon Brown Butter Breadcrumbs Recipe
The breadcrumbs that adorn this dish are almost the same as a sauce polonaise, save for the fact that this version swaps out crumbled hard boiled eggs for briefly toasted pine nuts. If you are looking to make this dish more of a one-meal affair, adding a chopped hard boiled egg or two would certainly up its protein quotient, making it stretch a bit further towards being a complete meal on its own.
1 large head of cauliflower, leaves and core removed, florets cut into roughly 2-inch long pieces.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced shallots
¼ cup panko breadcrumbs (or other dry, unseasoned breadcrumbs)
¼ cup pine nuts
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss cauliflower florets with 2 tablespoons of olive oil (I do this directly on the same heavy duty baking sheet I use to roast the cauliflower), then sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Arrange cauliflower on a heavy duty baking sheet, placing as many of the cut sides down as possible, then roast in the center of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until the cauliflower is deeply caramelized on the bottom and lightly golden on top.
While the cauliflower is roasting, melt the butter in a small skillet or pan over medium-low heat. When browning butter, it is always best to do so in a light-colored pan so you can closely gauge the changing of the butter’s color. Slowly cook the butter, swirling the pan around every few seconds so the butter cooks evenly. The butter will begin to foam, then spatter a bit, and then you’ll see the little dots of milk solids begin to turn brown at the bottom of the pan. This can take anywhere from 4 to 8 minutes, so be sure to watch the butter very carefully to keep it from burning.
When the dots of butter solids have turned a nice medium brown and the butter begins to emit a lovely nutty aroma, stir in the lemon juice. The mixture will spatter a bit, but that is to be expected. Immediately stir in the minced shallots, then cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots have softened (this should take 3 to 5 minutes). When the shallots have softened, stir in the breadcrumbs. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the breadcrumbs turn golden brown. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Remove breadcrumb mixture from pan. With the pan still set over medium-low heat, toast the pine nuts in the pan, stirring frequently, until they are golden brown all over, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
Arrange cauliflower on a serving platter. Spoon breadcrumb mixture over the cauliflower. Sprinkle over toasted pine nuts. Add chopped parsley. Serve as soon as possible.