Josef Centeno's first restaurant, Bäco Mercat, was a huge hit among critics, ourselves included. His second restaurant, Bar Amá, has us just as hooked. Centeno takes inspiration from the Tex-Mex food he grew up eating in San Antonio, Texas. Though Tex-Mex cuisine isn't exactly known for its abundance of fresh vegetables, Centeno didn't let this technicality stop him. On his new menu, vegetables are a focal point--and this roasted cauliflower with cilantro pesto is one of his favorite dishes. It combines cilantro, lime zest, cotija (a crumbly Mexican cow's-milk cheese) and cashews for a deliciously different take on the traditional basil-and-pine nut combo.
Roasted Cauliflower with Cilantro Pesto
Recipe adapted from Josef Centeno, Bar Amá, Los Angeles
Yield: 4 servings
Cook Time: 20 minutes
1¼ cups unsalted raw cashews
2 cups packed cilantro leaves
1 garlic clove, grated on a Microplane-style grater
Zest of ½ lime
½ teaspoon seeded and finely chopped serrano chile
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup crumbled cotija cheese
¼ teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large head cauliflower, cored and separated into small florets
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon crumbled cotija cheese
Juice of ½ lime
1. Toast the cashews: Preheat the oven to 350°. Place the cashews on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the cashews are toasted and fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the cashews to a large plate and set aside to cool them completely. Increase the oven temperature to 450°.
2. Make the pesto: Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Add the cilantro, and once it wilts, after about 30 seconds, drain in a fine-mesh sieve. Use a rubber spatula to force out as much water as possible.
3. In the bowl of a food processor, add the garlic, lime zest, serrano chile and olive oil and process until the mixture is smooth and emulsified. Add the blanched cilantro and purée until semi-smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of the cooled cashews, the ½ cup of cotija cheese and the sea salt and pulse until a chunky purée forms.
4. Cook the cauliflower: Heat a medium oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and heat until the oil shimmers, then add the cauliflower florets. Season with the sea salt and transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake for 3 minutes, then use a spatula to flip over the cauliflower florets. Return the skillet to the oven and roast until the cauliflower is tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the cauliflower to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain, then turn the florets out into a large bowl.
5. To the cauliflower, stir in ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons of the pesto (reserve the rest for another use). Serve the cauliflower sprinkled with the remaining ¼ cup of toasted cashews, the chopped cilantro, the 1 tablespoon of cotija and the lime juice.