This dinner party stunner is like a roasted chicken: wholly satisfying, always a hit and takes a bit of finesse to get just right. The cooking time varies based on the size of the cauliflower, but in general you can expect it to take an hour to an hour-and-a-half to roast and reduce as it should. The end result should be deeply colored on the outside and soft a few centimeters into the core — though the central core may never get soft enough to make for good eatin’. Don’t worry about that; instead, consider serving the cauliflower whole and carving off and serving the florets and stems at the table (as if carving a roast). One more pro tip: Keep the leaves! Cauliflower leaves roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper are outrageously delicious. (Throw them in the oven and snack while you’re waiting for the main event to cook. You’re welcome.)
1 cup roughly chopped toasted almonds, walnuts and/or pecans
1 large bunch parsley, leaves roughly chopped
For the cauliflower: Preheat the oven to 425°F. Trim the base of the cauliflower so that it can sit evenly in a pan, and use a paring knife to cut out the very center of the core (if you can’t get too far in there, don’t worry — but it does help it cook more evenly). Place in a cast iron or high-walled roasting pan.
Stir together the smoked paprika, garlic, 1 cup olive oil, citrus juice and zest and white wine and season with salt and pepper. Pour it over the cauliflower, rubbing it into the grooves and the sides, then season with more salt and pepper. Drizzle a little extra olive oil on top, for good measure, and pop the pan into the oven.
Start to baste the cauliflower around 20 minutes in; use a deep spoon to give it a good dousing with the pan juices. From this point forward, you’ll want to baste every 10 minutes or so. At some point, the top will start to brown to the point of looking burnt; don’t worry, this is a good sign! The pan juices should be reducing nicely, too. The cooking time varies from cauliflower to cauliflower but, as a general rule, when the florets are all nice and tender and the pan juices have reduced by at least half (around 45 minutes to an hour), you’ll want to take the cauli out of the cooking pan and place it, stem-side-up, on a separate sheet pan that’s been greased with olive oil. Cook for another 15 minutes this way, so that the bottom quarter of the head (which up until this point has steamed, more than roasted) has a chance to brown a bit. Leave the pan with the juices in the oven so that it continues to simmer and reduce.
When the cauliflower florets are all soft and browned and the stem is knife-tender (meaning you can stick a paring knife in there and pull it out without too much effort), pull the cauliflower and the pan of cooking liquid out of the oven. Transfer the pan juices to a bowl, being sure to scrape every bit of candied caramelized garlic from the pan (it should taste absurdly good…like dark garlic orange jam).
We like to serve the cauli two ways: We either bring it to the table whole and carve off florets and stems, as if carving a roast; or we cut the head into slices. If doing the latter, the ends will invariably fall apart, but you should be able to get two or three steaks, so to speak, from the middle. Either way, serve the cauliflower atop the wild rice salad with the pan juices poured over everything and a bowl of salsa verde on the side.
For the wild rice salad: Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the wild rice, and cook until the majority of the grains have burst and everything’s tender but with a bit of bite (about 30-40 minutes). Drain in a colander and set aside. Warm olive oil in a sauté pan and add the shallots; season with salt and sauté over medium heat until fully wilted and transparent (about 5 minutes). In a small pot or in the microwave, warm the currants in the sherry vinegar so that they plump. Strain them out of the vinegar (save this for later) and add them to the pan with the shallots. Stir well and sauté for another minute or two more. Add the reserved vinegar back into the pan as well as another pour of olive oil; stir well and add the pan contents to the wild rice. Add the toasted nuts and toss thoroughly. Take a taste: Does it need more olive oil, vinegar or salt? (If so, you know what to do!) Toss the rice salad with the parsley and top it with the roasted cauliflower and its pan juices.