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The Greatest, Smallest Thing | Cauliflower, Grape & Cheddar Salad

Cauliflower, Grape & Cheddar Salad | Delightful CrumbI used to want to change the world, to influence efforts of justice worldwide, to make my mark in an indisputable, “significant” way. I still want to change the world, of course, and many days I still wish I could make a big, dramatic mark. But I think about these things differently than I once did.

I’ve been reminded lately that my truest scope of influence is the small one: the near connections of close friends, family and coworkers, the interactions I have on a daily basis, the things I say and buy and write in emails, what I destroy and what I preserve. It is easy to feel overwhelmed these days—are there actually more tragedies and disasters, or do we just know about more of them? The question is in the air, at the edges of so many conversations. And it’s not that we shouldn’t pay attention to the bigger issues, not at all—we should pay very good attention. Yet in attending to the big things, we must make sure we do not miss the small ones.

This is what I have always loved about food. It is small. It is everyday. It is personal. You touch it with your hands. You need it to live. Feeding others very literally sustains them. I heard a panel of food professionals asked recently, Is it troubling to work in food in such a time as this? I thought that was a funny question. I’ve never wondered if working with food mattered; it’s what drew me to it in the first place. Because what is more basic and necessary than this? Whether powerful or marginalized, rich or poor, in the apartment upstairs or a country across the globe, we all need to eat.

Here in California, fires ripped through the North Bay just a few weeks ago. It was devastating. I don’t think I’ve ever been this close to a tragedy of that scale. The smoke hung over Oakland for well over a week as first responders struggled to gain control over the fires, giving us the tiniest hint of how terrible things were to the north, ensuring we didn’t move on mindlessly as our neighbors suffered. But it was amazing to see how people responded—with action, not just words or sentiment. And we need to continue doing this: buying California wines especially from those directly affected, visiting these cities to invest in their economies, asking how we can help.

But at the end of the day, it is a tragedy. By definition, we can only do so much. We cannot “fix” it. And when it comes to suffering, this is more often than not the case.

At the end of the first week of the fires, I went to the Cherry Bombe Jubilee in San Francisco, a gathering with so many smart, tough, interesting women in food. It was enlivening. It felt like hope embodied—look, here is a community! You aren’t alone. Also this month, I have both been a guest and thrown a solid dinner party, and both were genuinely life-giving. Because what we CAN do is love our neighbors, open our homes, feed our families and friends and strangers, think beyond ourselves—and this generosity, this spirit, is transformative.

In the midst of all of my musings about dinner parties came last week’s feature in The New York Times Magazine. Gabrielle Hamilton’s thoughts on the matter are characteristically blunt and brilliant. She recommends asking nothing of your guests; to be on the receiving end of this, she says, “is just the greatest thing of all time.” I have to say that I agree, though I’m always glad to bring dessert or a salad or a bottle of wine, too. I’m also all for the dinner party in which you don’t sweep the floors and/or you don’t actually cook and order takeout instead. The key is making it doable enough that you do it again (and again and again). It can’t be so fancy that it becomes a rarity. The point is gathering and giving, and I’m afraid we’re losing this in favor of either eating alone in front of Netflix or going out for an expensive meal where the dinner party is created for us.

Please—let us not lose this, as it is one of the smallest and most glorious things we can do. Feed yourself, as you, too, need to eat. And feed your family, regularly, joyfully, of course sometimes wearily. Then reach out and feed a few more; they will remind you that you’re not alone. When we look to the small things, we realize that we are not powerless after all. While we might not be able to turn the whole world around, we can surely transform these smaller worlds we inhabit, and that’s just as important—one might argue that it’s the very same thing.

Cauliflower, Grape & Cheddar Salad

Slightly adapted from Ottolenghi’s Plenty More

I would never have thought to combine all of these ingredients, but the result is exceptional. And yes, I know that I gave you an Ottolenghi recipe last month, too, but I’d forgotten that when I decided I’d share this, and both recipes really are worth the Ottolenghi oversaturation. I know this goes against food blogger best practices or whatever, but I’m not much for following rules on that front these days. What can I say? The man knows his vegetables, and these cookbooks truly are winners in my kitchen, month after month, year after year.

The farro makes for a heartier salad; leave it out for something less filling. Almonds would make a good substitute for the hazelnuts. And I think this would do quite nicely on a Thanksgiving table as this year’s “unique side”!

1 large or 2 small cauliflower, sliced or broken into bite-size florets (about 2 pounds/900 grams)

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1 heaped teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon honey

1/4 cup (30 grams) raisins

1/3 cup (40 grams) hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped

About 1 cup halved red grapes, seeded if necessary

3 ounces (80 grams) creamy, mature Cheddar, coarsely crumbled

1 small or medium bunch flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped

1 heaped cup cooked farro, optional

Salt

Freshly cracked pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Toss the cauliflower florets with 2 tablespoons of the oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and some black pepper. Spread out on a baking sheet and roast for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

To make the dressing, stir together the vinegar, mustard, honey and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add the olive oil and whisk to combine. Add the raisins and let them marinate for at least 10 minutes.

Just before serving, combine the cauliflower, hazelnuts (reserve some for garnish), grapes, cheese and parsley (reserve some parsley, too) in a large bowl. Pour the raisins and dressing over top and toss to combine. Finish with the reserved hazelnuts and parsley for garnish, plus a little salt and pepper. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

One Comment (Add Yours)

  1. Wonderful observations about life and food that i can resonate with. This week I made a pot of soup for a sick friend, and then was invited to a friend’s home for dinner while our kitchen was under construction. I agree with your comments about caring for others by sharing a meal. It is a tangible way to show love and generosity to the people in our lives.

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