At the tail end of cauliflower season, I’ve had enough of bubbly, gooey gratins. With spring just around the corner, I wanted to use what might be the last of our local cauliflower for something with more zip. I found a marinated cauliflower salad from Bon Appetit’s November 2003 issue, and that was just the inspiration I needed. Of course, I made a few changes by including carrots, switching up the olives, throwing in some capers, and adding some heat with crushed red pepper. But, I was thrilled with the basic idea of this mix of marinated vegetables that could top a bed of arugula for a fresh, crunchy salad of winter produce. You’ll want to start the salad either several hours or a day before you plan to serve it. The cauliflower, carrots, and olives need some time mingle in the dressing. I served it just like it appeared in Bon Appetit on a bed of baby arugula leaves, but it’s also great by itself. Or, you could top it with some toasted pine nuts and crumbled feta.
I started with a large head of cauliflower and cut the florets into pretty small pieces of about an inch or smaller. You can add the chopped vegetables to a large mixing bowl as you go. Next, a mix of olives like green and black Cerignolas and Kalamatas were pitted and roughly chopped. While shopping for these olives, I discovered that red Cerignola olives exist. I’d never seen them before. I looked it up and learned that they’re dyed red during the curing process, and I lost interest. For a moment, I thought there really was a strange, red variety of olive, but no. Carrots were sliced and celery was chopped as well. I love using the very middle stalks of celery and chopping the pale green leaves and including them too. Last, capers were drained and added to the bowl. I didn’t add any salt to the vegetables or to the dressing because of the saltiness of the olives and capers. Taste as you go to decide if you’d like any added salt. The dressing was made by whisking together apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, minced garlic, some fresh herbs, and crushed red pepper. Olive oil was drizzled in while whisking, and black pepper was added last. I used both chopped fresh oregano and parsley because both are currently growing in my herb garden. You could certainly skip the oregano or used dried. Half of the dressing was poured over the vegetables in the mixing bowl, and it was stirred to distribute. Cover the bowl and store the remaining dressing separately. Both should be refrigerated until ready to serve. For serving, arugula leaves were tossed with some of the remaining dressing and placed on a platter to be topped with the marinated vegetables.
The marinated cauliflower keeps well in the refrigerator for several days, and I found another great use for it that I can’t wait to show. The pops of flavor put this on the opposite end of the cauliflower spectrum from a cheese-filled gratin, and that makes it a good transitional dish on our way to spring.
Marinated Cauliflower, Olive, and Caper Salad
inspired by recipe from Bon Appetit November 2003
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (optional)
2 tablespoon chopped fresh parsely
pinch crushed red pepper
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large head of cauliflower, cut into small florets
2 cups mixed olives, pitted and roughly chopped ( a mix of green and black Cerignola olives and some Kalamatas made a good combination)
3/4 cup sliced carrots
3/4 cup chopped celery, (middle stalks with the leaves)
1/4 cup capers in brine, drained
10 ounces baby arugula, washed and spun dry
In a small bowl or glass measuring pitcher, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, minced garlic, herbs, and crushed red pepper, and slowly drizzle in the oil while continuing to whisk until emulsified. Season with black pepper to taste. I don’t add salt here since the olives and capers add saltiness to the salad.
Combine all ingredients for the marinated cauliflower in a large mixing bowl. Add about half of the dressing to the vegetables and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for several hours. Store the remaining dressing in the refrigerator overnight as well. If you think of it, stir the cauliflower mixture a time or two to distribute the dressing while it marinates.
Remove dressing and marinated cauliflower mix from refrigerator about an hour before serving. Toss arugula with some of the remaining dressing and place on a platter. Top the arugula with the marinated cauliflower and serve.