Warm Cauliflower and Pear Salad with Brown Butter Vinaigrette

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I have a tendency to read food magazines the way other people treat fashion magazines except that food magazines aren’t necessarily built like that. Unlike a fashion spread where you see an outfit and you have some idea what it’s made of, the pictures in food magazines are sometimes misleading. They look so delicious and title looks promising. I found a recipe with a similar title in Fine Cooking recently that looks so good and I immediately wanted to make it. Cauliflower, pears, brown butter, that’s a lot of good stuff just in the title. But when I read the recipe it was … disappointing.

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The vegetables were cooked in a pan for a short time which means they’re probably more steamed than browned. The brown butter turned out to be just that, just brown butter. And while I’m a fan of the nutty richness, it’s not enough to make a balanced dish. It would just be sort of sweet and rich but with nothing else to make it a complete dish. So I took the main ingredients and made the dish I’d imagined when I saw the picture.

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When I choose side dish recipes from magazines I always consider whether it’s something I would eat on its own as a main course or at least as a hearty snack. For the vast majority of sides, if it’s not worth eating without the main course, it’s not going to make an impression on the people eating it. But even if the recipe on the page isn’t quite up to snuff, that doesn’t mean it’s worthless. Like any other thing you make, it can be tweaked slightly to make a one-note somewhat boring dish into something people will ask for again.

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What ended up on my plate was sweet and rich but with a little acid to give it some depth and a little sharpness from horseradish. It looks like what was in the picture but it’s a stronger dish that can stand up on its own. Or at least, that’s what it seems like to me.

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Warm Cauliflower and Pear Salad with Brown Butter Vinaigrette

Inspired by Cauliflower with Brown Butter, Pears, Sage & Hazelnuts from Fine Cooking, November 2008

1 large or 2 medium heads of cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
3 pears, slightly under ripe (so they won’t fall apart when roasted), cored and cut into slices
2 tbs olive oil
2 tsp kosher salt, divided
2 tbs butter
1-2 tbs red wine vinegar
1-2 tbs horseradish*
3 tbs finely chopped sage (about 10 sage leaves)
3 tbs finely chopped parsley (a small handful)
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 475F, the roasting temperature. Line a baking sheet with foil and spread the oil onto the baking sheet.** Put the cauliflower pieces on the sheet and toss them with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt. Roast the cauliflower for 10 minutes, stir the pieces, then roast them for another 10 minutes.

When the cauliflower is golden brown on the edges touching the pan, remove it from the oven and scrape it into a large bowl, leaving the foil on the sheet (don’t forget the little browned floret bits!). Add the pears to the baking sheet and return it to the oven for about 5 minutes or until the pears are slightly darkened. Scrape them into the bowl with the cauliflower.

Add the butter to a small saucepan and put it over medium-low heat. Cook for about 5-8 minutes or until the butter solids are golden brown and the pan smells nutty as well as buttery. You can brown them as much as you want but the longer you brown it the greater the risk of burning it.

Once the butter is browned, let it cool for a minute and then add the vinegar, horseradish, herbs, 1 teaspoon of salt, and the pepper. Whisk the ingredients together and then pour it over the roasted ingredients. Toss the salad thoroughly but be careful not to break up the pears too much. Serve the salad warm or else the butter will be in little solid pieces.

*For a more delicate salad that will play well with other dishes, use the smaller amount of vinegar and horseradish. But for a really punchy side or main dish, use the larger amounts.

** Putting oil on the sheet first and then tossing in the cauliflower means the bottoms of the cauliflower will be well-oiled and less likely to stick. Or you could thoroughly toss them in a bowl with the oil but I’m generally too lazy to clean an extra bowl.

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