Everyone eats. But not everybody cooks. The other night, I trudged out into the gray drizzle to buy a bottle of wine and some paprika. I parked my car in Dante’s seventh level of hell, rode up two escalators, pushed and navigated myself to the back of the store, past cases and shelves of pre-prepared food, which could be ready in less than five minutes, waited my turn at the checkout, and thought, “How in God’s name is it possible that anyone still cooks?” We hear the siren call of prepared foods constantly, all day long. It gets louder as we get hungry. Why do all these chain restaurants, grocery stores, corporate food giants want to cook for us? Because they want to nurture us, warm our bellies, tell us they love us with the comforting, steamy aroma of some “lovin from the oven?” Well, probably not.
Before I was allowed to leave home for college, my mother sat me down for a little talk. No, not that talk. “Listen,” she said, a furrow between her brows. “You need to know how to cut up a chicken. The grocery store charges almost twice as much for a cut-up chicken. If you buy it whole, it will be much cheaper.” Imagining all my beer money lining the pockets of the manager of the Piggly Wiggly, I picked up my knife for a lesson in butchery. The truth, I realized, was that everything that gets done to food adds a little to the cost. If I bought fresh vegetables, unprocessed meats, live crawfish, unpeeled shrimp, whole fish, dried beans, rice, and pasta, I would save a bunch of cash. Lesson learned. Along the way, I bought a giant stockpot, rented an apartment on Chimes street, and had a lot of friends. I loved that my apartment always had an open door and a big pot of gumbo, bolognese, crawfish etoufee, or red beans and rice on the stove. That was my siren call, and it still is. Another lesson learned. If you open your doors and feed people, it can offer you the greatest joy humans can experience. Feeding people, awakening their senses, offering simple pleasure, warming them–this is why I cook. And to me, that’s priceless.
Roasted Cauliflower with Parmesan and Paprika Breadcrumbs
1 head cauliflower, separated into florets
salt and pepper
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan
2 thick slices rustic, heart white bread, crusts removed
2 tsp. paprika
Place cauliflower florets in a large bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat well, then add grated parmesan, and toss until coated. Place on baking sheet or in large, oven-proof skillet and roast at 425 until browned.
Meanwhile, place bread in food processor and process into fine crumbs. Heat olive oil in a large skillet, then add paprika and breadcrumbs. Cook over medium heat until crunchy and fragrant. Pour out onto paper towels or brown paper bag and set aside.
When cauliflower is roasted, remove to plates or serving platter and top with breadcrumbs. Leftover breadcrumbs are delicious as a garnish for soup or salads.