Baked cauliflower with lemon, sage, thyme and cracked hazelnuts
The Oregon hazelnut harvest began in September and came to a close as at the start of November. The 2016 crop of Oregon hazelnuts is now available in the local marketplace, with the majority of the crop is headed around the globe.
Oregon is the top producer of hazelnuts in the United States with over 50,000 acres of land committed to hazelnut orchards and eight hundred farms tending those orchards.
Growers prefer different varieties: Barcelona hazelnuts account for sixty percent of the Oregon crop (the largest volume), but in a blind tasting, smaller growers favor the less productive Lewis, Clark, Tonda di Giffoni and Sacajawea varieties for their flavor. Location in the Willamette Valley also dictates which varieties do well in what orchard, as the trees are susceptible to blight in some of the valley's micro-climates. High moisture, maritime climates are favorable for growing Barcelona hazelnuts, for example. With trees yielding sizeable, healthy crops for 80 years and beyond, trees planted in the 1940's are still productive.
The flavor of hazelnuts works well in cold and warm dishes, and the nuts makes delicious, fresh-tasting butter when finely ground. They're especially good dipped in chocolate! For me, toasted hazelnuts have a hint of butterscotch, which I use as a guideline when pairing our state nut with other flavors and ingredients.
This particular recipe showcases hazelnut as a finishing ingredient, drawing attention to the flavor and texture they bring to the browned cauliflower cooked in cream with sage, thyme and lemon. It is a good side dish for roasted chicken or pork loin. I recommend looking for roasted hazelnuts that have been at least partially skinned.
If you are interested in exploring more hazelnut products, go try Freddy Guys, one of my favorite Oregon producers.
Makes 4 servings
1 small head cauliflower
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh sage
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1/2 small yellow onion, sliced into thin rings
1/2 cup coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
With the cauliflower sitting on its stem end, cut the cauliflower in half, attempting to keep the core intact, so that the pieces stay together. From there, slice each half into 1-inch thick slices. If the slices fall apart, leave the florets in large pieces. Set aside.
Combine the cream, Parmesan cheese, and lemon zest and juice in a bowl and set aside.
Heat the oil over medium heat in a heavy bottomed sauté pan (The slices should fit into a 12-inch sauté pan.) or cast iron skillet. You could also brown the pieces in batches in a smaller pan, and finish cooking them in a larger baking dish. Add the cauliflower slices to the hot oil and season them with salt. Brown on both sides and remove the pieces to a plate.
Discard any oil remaining in the pan after browning the cauliflower and add the slices back to the pan. Pour the reserve cream mixture over top, Arrange the cauliflower in the pan. Pour the blended cream over the cauliflower, sprinkle the sage and thyme over top and scatter the onion rings around the pan. Lightly season with salt.
Bring the contents of the pan to a simmer and place it in the oven. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender (a fork slides in to the pieces easily) to and the cream has reduced and thickened.
Remove the pan from the oven and let it sit briefly before adding a bit more lemon juice, if desired, and sprinkling the hazelnuts on top. Serve immediately, directly from the pan, or family-style from a bowl or platter.