Without sourness, there could be no sweetness, and vice versa. Experiencing one creates the perspective necessary to appreciate the other, to truly recognize the full spectrum of flavors between the extremes. Finding balance between such starkly contrasted tastes is rare, but highly sought after judging by the popularity of the sweet and sour sauces found splashed across every generic Chinese takeout menu in America. Something about that acidic twang and its sugary foil brings us back for bite after bite, no matter the vehicle, be it protein or vegetable. Asian cultures don’t have a monopoly on this culinary game, though, despite their domination in the field.
Italian agrodolce has a sharp yet sugared character all its own, typically created by a combination of a vinegar reduction and dried fruits. It’s great as a glaze for an entree, like pan-seared tofu or tempeh, or tossed with fresh pasta for a side, but today I’m using it to kick off a party with a wallop of bold flavor.
Everyone’s favorite vegetable du jour, cauliflower, comes in a full spectrum of colors far more brilliant than the average white floret would suggest. Roasted with just a touch of olive oil, salt, and pepper, the simplicity of that preparation is hard to beat, but you can easily step up your starter game with this stellar sauce. In this unconventional approach, briny capers join the fun to turn the dial to 11, but finely chopped green olives could make a fabulous, more mild understudy.
My favorite serving suggestion involves bread. Wide open planes of thick toasted bread or more dainty slices of baguette, first smeared with cashew ricotta for a rich, creamy base which elegantly cuts through these sharp contrasts.
If you’re not crazy about pairing fruit with savory vegetables, I hear you. I too would have given this combination the side eye not long ago. Suspend disbelief long enough take a chance; unlike the cloying and syrupy renditions of sweet and sour that turned me away in the past, this one, like life itself, is all about finding beauty in balance.
Roasted Rainbow Cauliflower Agrodolce
2 Pounds Purple, White, Green, and/or Orange Cauliflower Florets (About 3 – 4 Small Heads Total)
6 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
3/4 Cup Jumbo Raisin Medley or Golden Raisins
1/4 Cup Sherry Vinegar
1/4 Cup Capers, Drained
1/2 Cup Fresh Parsley, Minced
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower florets, garlic, oil, salt, and pepper together until thoroughly combined and evenly seasoned. Arrange in a single layer on a large baking sheet, or divide between two baking sheets if needed. Place in the center of the oven and roast until golden brown and fork tender; about 20 – 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat, mix the vinegar, capers, and raisins and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently until all the liquid has absorbed into the fruit.
Toss the roasted cauliflower with the vinegared raisins, along with the minced parsley. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes 6 – 8 Servings