Cauliflower and Carrots Move to the Centre of the Plate
As veg-centric entrées gain momentum on menus, cauliflower and carrots—formerly sidelined as sides—are taking centre stage.
Cauliflower and carrots are hardy enough and versatile enough to stand up to a variety of cooking methods and applications, and are available year-round.
“The trend is for very little processing,” says Gordon Food Service Corporate Consulting Chef Gerry Ludwig, CEC. “These vegetables will always be less costly than protein counterparts.”
The question, then, is not whether to menu them; it’s how to menu them. Carrots can become soups, soufflés, or even ketchups. Cauliflower can be carved into “steaks” for grilling, mashed like potatoes, or puréed for soups, sauces, and soufflés.
Roasted and Robust
For both vegetables, the trendiest preparation is whole-roasting—ideally suited to centre-of-the-plate menuing. The large, impressive vegetables create a dramatic appearance on the plate and they convey freshness and quality. Rotisserie-roast whole heads of cauliflower, then top with sauce, breadcrumbs, and crumbled bacon.
- Serve roasted cauliflower wedges with chickpeas and fingerling potatoes in a tomato-based sauce spiked with masala and sumac.
- Pair roasted cauliflower florets with other roasted vegetables or a classic cheese or béarnaise sauce. Sprinkles of cheese, anchovies, or crisped bacon—add craveable umami.
- Roast baby carrots with fines herbes (chervil, parsley, tarragon, chives) and olive oil.
- Roast heirloom carrots with chilies, cumin, and Marcona almonds Moroccan-style in a tagine.
A substantial part of cauliflower’s appeal is its “bitter” flavour profile, which Technomic Inc. calls a key 2015 flavour trend and “the new ‘bold.’” Keep in mind that cauliflower needs help with eye appeal and mouthfeel, so add contrast and crunch.
- Char-roast cauliflower to add colour and plate it with colourful vegetables and sauces for visual appeal.
- Cauliflower takes well to tempura-frying and deep-frying. Soak florets in buttermilk, deep-fry them, then serve with Sriracha, Buffalo, or Chinese five-spice sauce.
Carrots: Orange is the New Breakout
Innovative flavours and pairings elevate whole carrots to robust centre-of-the plate star attractions.
- Drizzle carrots with top-quality olive oil or infused grapeseed oil, and sprinkle with truffle shavings.
- To bring out their sweet flavour, toss roasted or braised carrots with fresh herbs (tarragon, thyme, sorrel).
- Asian flavours pair well with carrots. Cook them in lemongrass or ginger-infused broth.
- Serve whole glazed carrots with a balsamic reduction.
Use the Entire Vegetable
Carrots are also ripe for “root-to-stem” cooking that reduces waste and cuts food costs while adding eye appeal, texture, and nutrition to the plate.
- Mince bright-green, slightly bitter carrot tops. Add them to soups, salads, and chermoulas; use them as plate garnishes.
- Leave green stalks attached to cauliflower florets to use as handles for dipping when cauliflower is served as a sharing-plates dish.
- Shave cauliflower stems and add to salads.
Choose the Best Vegetables
Choose cauliflower that’s bright white; black spots indicate rot.
- Remove plastic wrapping from cauliflower. Plastic traps moisture and causes spots.
- Use carrots within a few weeks of purchase. Centre-of-the-plate carrots must be supremely fresh and crisp, free of any “woody” appearance, texture, or flavour.