Like many of you, I’ve been following Sunday Suppers for a while, and I adore her Simple Fare cookbooks. Karen and I share a love for simply prepared food made with carefully-sourced, high-quality ingredients, which can then become the center of (or the excuse for) community building and human connection. Or just having a good time.
So when, early this year, Karen announced the launch of a worldwide series called -go figure- Sobremesa, I had two options: join or bust. Obviously, I went for the latter. I called my event Sobremesa x Sobremesa, which is only fair, right?
At the end of June, just in time for the solstice, I hosted a Summer Sobremesa x Sobremesa dinner at a my friend Peter’s gorgeous home in the Berkeley hills. On the longest eve of the year, we sat at a long table outside, surrounded by profuse East Bay flora, and ate, drank, and chatted to our hearts’ content, until it was too dark to keep going.
My friends Shannon and Cathy helped out with food prep (and I couldn’t have done it without them), and Saman captured it all on camera. It was such a perfect evening, and all of Karen’s plans were completely aligned with my own Sobremesa values. The menu she designed for the summer season of Sobremesa was Mexican-inspired, and extremely colorful. I had loads of fun executing a menu not my own, for once, just following directions and tweaking here and there.
Just over a month later, we moved back to Barcelona, and I knew I wanted to host again. Our new home is also in the hills and surrounded by trees, and with a bit of luck we could also eat outside, even in November.
The weeks leading up to the Fall Sobremesa x Sobremesa event, however, were some of the rainiest I’ve seen in a Barcelona fall. The guests on the Boutique Barcelona tour I ran in October were troopers, powering through our planned events in spite of torrential rain and cold (and even a bit of snow up in Montserrat). I bought a vintage embroidered tablecloth and planned for an inside meal, maybe even a fire in the fireplace.
The day of the event, however, could not have been more beautiful. It was scheduled for a Sunday lunchtime, and the morning dawned with not a cloud in sight (I had been up for a while prepping; this time I did it single-handedly; I miss my friends!), only bright Mediterranean sunlight, and temperatures warm enough to sit outside in short sleeves at lunchtime. The night before, given the forecast, after a full day or prep I had rushed out to get a new tablecloth to fit our outside table. It was totally worth it.
Twelve of us gathered, from seven different nationalities. And I thought leaving the Bay Area meant bidding farewell to diversity, ha! No matter how long I do this, I am still in awe of the magical effects of sitting down to share a meal: deep bonds are almost immediately established. Mutual understanding and the sharing of a pleasant meal seem to go hand in hand. By the end of the day, we who had started out strangers were all old friends. The attendees were Barcelona residents as well as visitors in passing, who happened to find out about the event and made the trek all the way to my removed home in the hills (not easy, even with Google maps, as the streets in our village are windy, steep, and unmarked).
The delightful Catalan couple who came confessed to me right before they left (and they were the very last to go) that they were quite nervous about entering a stranger’s home for a meal; I would never have guessed it, as they were perhaps the most cheerful, open Catalan people I have ever met. In fact, we are already planning our next meals together in each other’s homes. I admit I was a bit nervous too, wondering what language we would speak, whether everyone shared a common one (the answer was English). My friend Inbal took some beautiful shots of the day; this is our first collaboration (the first of many, I hope), and I am so pleased that her outlook on the day was so similar to mine. You can see Inbal’s work here.
The lovely Turkish family who attended has promised to send some Urfa Biber (a dried, smoky Turkish pepper that was in one of the recipes, and I made everyone smell so that they could be familiar with it) to me once they get back to Istanbul, and I plan to hold them to it. In exchange, I am offering my cauliflower recipe from the gathering.
This was one of the recipes I tweaked to make the event a bit more to my style. Whereas the summer menu was mostly vegetarian (and even vegan), this one, to my taste, was a bit heavy in animal protein, so I decided to replace Karen’s short ribs for a whole-roasted cauliflower. I have been cooking from Ottolenghi’s new book, and came up with a combination of a recipe from Simple along with Karen’s chili oil, which I thought would suit the cauliflower just as well as it would meat. The theme for the fall menu is Earth, and the cauliflower in combination with the smoky, earthy taste of the peppers in the oil, screamed earthy to me. I hope everyone was ok with the change. (I also served tea instead of espresso, tea geek that I am; I find tea much more conducive to connection over a long, slow meal, not to mention more digestive as well.)
I am proud to say that this was the favorite recipe of the meal, the one people asked me for the recipe. Here it is, new friends, may you recall our sunny Mediterranean Fall sobremesa together as you prepare and enjoy it.
Whole-Roasted Cauliflower with Chili Oil and Garlic Chips
Inspired by recipes by Yotam Ottolenghi and Karen Mordechai
1 whole head cauliflower, leaves still on
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic
2 Tb butter
3 teaspoons Urfa Biber
3 Tablespoons Maras pepper or Spanish smoked paprika
flaky salt, to taste
lemon wedges, to serve, optional
Make the garlic chips: slice garlic cloves thinly. Heat the oil in a skillet and add in the garlic slices, letting them get just golden, a couple minutes. Remove from heat and use a small colander over a mason jar to strain the oil from the chips. Reserve the chips. Let the oil cool a bit and then add in the peppers, cover the jar and shake. Reserve.
Preheat oven to 170ºC/340ºF. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Trim the leaves of the cauliflower a bit so that the top of the head is exposed. Gently release the cauliflower, exposed head down, into the boiling water and let it come to a boil again. Simmer for 6 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and let sit for 10 min. upside down in a colander to drain excess water.
Place the cauliflower right side up in a baking dish. Cut the butter into squares and place them on top. Drizzle on the pepper oil, and top it all with flaky salt.
Bake for 1-2 hours (depending on your oven and the size of your cauliflower head), until almost charred and so tender, you can slice it with a spoon.
Serve on the table whole, and let guests cut into it with a big spoon. Serve with lemon wedges if desired.