Huh. Cauliflower. Who knew it could be so delicious? We were three dishes into our meal at Bibiana when we were struck by the pleasures of this humble vegetable before us.
Did you ever notice how Italians are able to make simple veggies taste so unreasonably delicious? Part of it is undoubtedly the Grade A olive oil they use. Another part is their restraint, which allows the ingredient’s pure flavor to shine.
This particular contorno of cavolfiori was robust and full of flavor. Florets of cauliflower were roasted with sweet garlic, briny anchovies, and gilded with fruity olive oil. As each little cauliflower tree disappeared into my mouth, I plotted my strategy on how to recreate this dish at home. (More on that later.)
While the décor of Bibiana’s dining room is a little too generic-hotel-esque for the homey osteria-style menu, the balanced flavors, al dente homemade pasta, and energetic hum of a full house make up for it.
When Burrata is on the menu, it is impossible for me not to order it. What is there not to love about this creamy love bomb? Served with roasted red beets and sprinkled with bittersweet cocoa nibs, this dish was expectedly likeable…but pretty standard.
The Beef Tartar, on the other hand, was spectacular. The buttery raw beef was marinated in capers, anchovies, and olive oil, and served with crushed pistachios. Adorning the plate were dollops of parmigiano cream and a streak of pistachio-red wine puree that had such a depth of flavor, it could have passed as a pate kissed with a hint of sweet grapes.
Now, for the true test of any great Italian restaurant. The Pasta. Bibiana passed with flying colors. My Agnolotti were light as air – pillows of creamy sheep’s milk ricotta wrapped in thin sheets of homemade pasta. Seasoned with sweet butter, a touch of marjoram, lemon, and sautéed baby spinach, this dish was surprisingly light, fresh, and clean. I only wished there were more of it, alas, these were Italian-Italian, not Italian-American, portions.
Hua was in the mood for something with a little more kick, and a little more pork fat. He had the Bucatini all’Amatriciana. If you’re not familiar with this pasta, bucatini are like spaghetti, but with a tiny hollow space through the center, which helps capture a bit of sauce inside. Said sauce was a traditional sugo all’Amatriciana, made with guanciale (salt-cured pork jowl), tomatoes, red onion, red chilies, and a sprinkling of grated Pecorino Romano.
There is nothing more satisfying than a bowl of well-made pasta. These are the kind of pasta dishes I remember eating my year abroad in Italy. Authentic, classic, flavor combos refined in their simplicity.
For dessert, the Honey-Nut Semifreddo with hazelnuts and milk jam sauce caught my eye…
But what stole my heart was this ridiculously decadent Torta del Finanziere. Traditionally a French cake, financiers get their name from their shape, which resembles a bar of gold. This particular financier does its name proud…it is rich, rich, RICH!! Richer than Richard Branson. The brown butter practically oozes from this cake, not to mention the sumptuous coating of salted caramel poured over top. Pastry chef Douglas Hernandez works a bit of magic here, countering the nutty brown butter and salted caramel with a swipe of tart apple butter and a refreshing zing of cider gelato on the side.
I am probably better off not trying to recreate this masterpiece of a dessert (at least my waistline is). Now that I think about it, kind of cruel to lead up to a cauliflower recipe after that financier, huh? I’m all “brown butter!” “salted caramel!” “gelato!” … and then, “cauliflower.” Womp womp. I know, you want to punch me in the face. I’m the worst.
I promise you though, this Roasted Cauliflower with Garlic and Anchovies is really good. A simple vegetable side dish you’ll turn to again and again.
Start off by cutting the cauliflower in half and separating the branches into florets. Then, melt down the anchovies in a skillet, stirring them until a paste forms. My husband is obsessed with all things anchovy (and all things salty for that matter), so I’ve been buying in bulk these little tins of Italian anchovies packed in olive oil.
Next, add the smashed garlic to the pan, lemon juice, and the cauliflower, tossing it all together so that the anchovy “sauce” coats all the florets. A sprinkle of panko crumbs, a drizzle of olive oil, and into the oven it all goes.
The dish is done when the cauliflower is fork-tender and the panko has turned a crunchy golden brown. Top with grated parmigiano, salt and pepper, and that’s it! Buon Appetito!
Florets of cauliflower were roasted with sweet garlic, briny anchovies, and gilded with fruity olive oil. A great vegetable side dish you'll turn to again and again.
Recipe Source: LickMySpoon.com.
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