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Recipes: Sweet, spicy, tomatoey pot roast-style cauliflower

When presentation counts, ‘pot roast’ cauliflower whole and slice it at the table.

 Sweet, Spicy,  Tomatoey Pot Roasted  Cauliflower
Photographs by anthony tieuli; food styling by Sheila jarnes/Ennis inc.
Sweet, spicy, tomatoey pot roasted cauliflower.

I’ve been known to eat a whole head of roasted cauliflower, piece by piece off the sheet pan, for dinner. It’s tasty, but not much by way of presentation. When cauliflower is on the menu and looks count, cooking the head whole and slicing it like a cake at the table packs a visual punch. I like pot roasting, which amounts to browning the cauliflower like a piece of meat and braising it in a complementary sauce, usually with tomatoes, to provide moisture and flavor.

These recipes work well as the centerpiece of a meatless dinner. Serve with lentils, rice, whole grains such as farro, or maybe naan for the Indian version, and finish with cooked leafy greens to complete the meal.

Master Recipe for Browned Whole Cauliflower for Pot Roasting

2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil

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1 large cauliflower, about 2½ pounds, trimmed and shallow-cored (see tip)

Salt and pepper

In a large saucepan or small Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the cauliflower, cored side up, and cook, turning the head slightly every 2 to 3 minutes so another surface is in contact with the bottom of the pot, until the whole head is spotty brown, about 15 minutes (adjust the heat as necessary to prevent scorching). Gently transfer the cauliflower to a plate and, when cool enough to handle, sprinkle all over (including the cored side) with salt and pepper.

Grasp a wad of paper towels with tongs, wipe out the pot (removing any burnt bits of cauliflower), and continue with one of the recipes on the next page.

Sweet, Spicy, Tomatoey Pot Roasted Cauliflower

Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a side

1         tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

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1         medium onion, chopped

1         small yellow or orange bell pepper, chopped (about 1 cup)

Salt and ground black pepper

1         tablespoon pressed or grated garlic (about 5 medium cloves)

2        teaspoons minced anchovy (about 4 medium-small fillets, preferably oil-packed)

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¼      teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more, to taste

1/3        cup dry white wine

1         can (14.5 ounces) petite-diced tomatoes, drained

1         teaspoon sugar

½      cup golden raisins

1         large cauliflower, about 2½ pounds, browned for pot roasting

1/3        cup chopped fresh parsley

With the rack in the middle position, heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Place the pot used to brown the cauliflower over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, and heat until shimmering. Add the onion, bell pepper, and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, anchovy, and crushed red pepper and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the wine, adjust the heat to medium-high, bring to a strong simmer, and continue to simmer until reduced by about half, about 2½ minutes. Add the tomatoes and sugar and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add the raisins and stir to mix. Place the cauliflower in the pot, cored side down, and spoon the tomato mixture, both liquid and solids, over it. Cover and bake until the cauliflower is tender but not mushy (a slender skewer should slide easily into the thick stems), about 25 to 40 minutes, removing the pot lid about halfway through.

Gently transfer the cauliflower to a serving dish. Adjust the seasoning of the sauce with salt and black pepper if necessary. Add most of the parsley and stir to mix. Scrape the mixture over and around the cauliflower, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle with the remaining parsley, and serve at once.

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Pot Roasted Cauliflower with Greek Flavors and Feta

Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a side

2        tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

1         medium onion, chopped

Salt and pepper

1         tablespoon pressed or grated garlic (about 5 medium cloves)

2        teaspoons dried oregano, crushed

1         teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼      teaspoon ground allspice

1         tablespoon tomato paste

1/3        cup dry red wine

1         can (14.5 ounces) petite-diced tomatoes, drained

½      teaspoon sugar

1         large cauliflower, about 2½ pounds, browned for pot roasting

1/3        cup chopped fresh parsley

¾      cup finely crumbled feta

With the rack in the middle position, heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Place the pot used to brown the cauliflower over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, and heat until shimmering. Add the onion and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, cinnamon, and allspice and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Clear a spot in the center of the pot, add remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and allow it to heat for a moment. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. Add the wine, adjust the heat to medium-high, bring to a strong simmer, and continue to simmer until reduced by about half, about 2½ minutes. Add the tomatoes, sugar, and pepper to taste and continue to cook, about 5 minutes. Place the cauliflower in the pot, cored side down, and spoon the tomato mixture, both liquid and solids, over it. Cover and bake until the cauliflower is tender but not mushy (a slender skewer should slide easily into the thick stems), about 25 to 40 minutes, removing the pot lid about halfway through.

Gently transfer the cauliflower to a serving dish. Adjust the seasoning of the sauce with salt and pepper if necessary. Add most of the parsley and stir to mix. Scrape the sauce over and around the cauliflower, shower with the feta, sprinkle with the remaining parsley, and serve at once.

TIP: SHALLOW-CORING CAULIFLOWER

 When you plan to cook and present the cauliflower whole, you want it to stay intact. So rather than cutting into the head deeply to remove the whole core, I do what I call “shallow-coring.” With the base of the cauliflower facing up or to one side, hold a paring knife at a wide angle and cut only about 1 inch deep. Work the knife in a circle to remove the stem and a shallow, cone-shaped piece of the core.
Anthony Tieuli
When you plan to cook and present the cauliflower whole, you want it to stay intact. So rather than cutting into the head deeply to remove the whole core, I do what I call “shallow-coring.” With the base of the cauliflower facing up or to one side, hold a paring knife at a wide angle and cut only about 1 inch deep. Work the knife in a circle to remove the stem and a shallow, cone-shaped piece of the core.

Indian-Inspired Creamy Pot Roasted Cauliflower

Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a side

You have to soak the cashews for about 2 hours, so plan accordingly.

1/3        cup raw cashews, roughly chopped

1½    teaspoons garam masala

½      teaspoon pure chili powder

½      teaspoon ground cumin

½      teaspoon ground coriander

½      teaspoon ground turmeric

2        tablespoons vegetable oil

1         medium onion, chopped

Salt

1         tablespoon pressed or grated garlic (about 5 medium cloves)

1         tablespoon minced or grated ginger

1         medium serrano chili, seeded if desired, minced (about 1 tablespoon)

1         can (14.5 ounces) petite-diced tomatoes, drained

2        teaspoons brown sugar

1/3        cup plain yogurt

1         large cauliflower, about 2½ pounds, browned for pot roasting

3        tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

In a small bowl, cover the cashews with warm water and soak until softened, about 2 hours. Drain and set aside. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix the garam masala, chili powder, cumin, coriander, and turmeric, and set aside.

With the rack in the middle position, heat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the pot used to brown the cauliflower over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon oil, and heat until shimmering. Add the onion and ¾ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, until softened and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and serrano chili and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Clear a spot in the middle of the pot, add remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and allow it to heat for a moment. Add the spice mixture and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1½ minutes. Add the tomatoes and brown sugar and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Off heat, add the cashews and yogurt and stir to mix. In a blender or with an immersion blender, puree the mixture until very smooth and uniform, and, if using a blender, return mixture to the pot. Adjust the seasoning with salt if necessary.

Place the cauliflower in the pot, cored side down, and spoon the tomato sauce over it. Cover and bake until the cauliflower is tender but not mushy (a slender skewer should slide easily into the thick stems), about 25 to 40 minutes, removing the pot lid about halfway through.

Gently transfer the cauliflower to a serving dish. Adjust the seasoning of the sauce with salt if necessary. Scrape the sauce over and around the cauliflower, sprinkle with the cilantro, and serve at once.

Adam Ried appears regularly on “America’s Test Kitchen.’’ Send comments to cooking@globe.com. Follow us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag.