Effortless Baked Cauliflower with Black Olives and Cheese

A winning side dish that couldn't be easier to make.
A winning side dish that couldn’t be easier to make.

Given that it’s June, is it too early to start thinking about festive winter holidays?


But “Baked Cauliflower with Black Olives and Cheese” is a dish you’ll want to enjoy now, as well as tuck away for safe-keeping for those November and December gatherings that will be here before you know it, given how time flies these days like a Shohei Ohtani fastball.

That’s because this side dish is a crowd-pleaser, easy to make, and much of it can be prepped ahead of time.

This fabulous recipe is from “The Food of Sicily” (Artisan Books, 2023), of which I received a review copy.

It was written by Palermo-native Farbrizia Lanza, who grew up in a wine-making family, who owns the 200-year-old Tasca d’Almerita in Sicily. In 2006, she took over the operations of her mother’s Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School in Sicily.

The largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily is a melting pot of influences from the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Spanish, and French, Lanza writes, all of whom ruled it at some point in history.

The book is lavishly photographed with not only food images but ones of everyday life in Sicily. The collection of recipes, both classic and more modern adaptations, have an inviting rusticity to them. Tuck into everything from “Ricotta Fritters,” “Fish Soup with Steamed Couscous,” and “Bucatini with Sardines and Wild Fennel” to “Roast Chicken with Oranges,” “Sicilian Meatloaf,” and “Knotted Lemon Cookies.”

Layering provolone and black olives overtop before putting the dish into the oven.
Layering provolone and black olives overtop before putting the dish into the oven.

For this cauliflower dish, blanch the florets in a pot of salted boiling water. Drain, then transfer to an oiled baking dish. Saute diced onion in olive oil until tender, then scatter over the cauliflower.

The recipe calls for draping primo sale, tuma, or provola cheese over the top, but thankfully, gives the suggestion of mild provolone or a lightly salted mozzarella, if the former are too hard to find at your local grocery store. Lastly, scatter over black olives, and drizzle on a little olive oil, before baking in the oven until the cheese melts and the top is golden.

Wonderfully cheesy yet not heart-attack rich.
Wonderfully cheesy yet not heart-attack rich.

What makes this a great dish for entertaining is that you could prep the cauliflower a day or two ahead of time or even assemble the entire dish early in the day, then refrigerate until ready to bake that night.

What’s more, this is a cheesy gratin that doesn’t require a bechamel or any creamy sauce, which means it’s quicker to put together, and also less caloric. Don’t get me wrong; it’s still rich tasting, but just enough, without making you feel like a beached whale afterward.

The cauliflower is tender and nutty tasting, and its sweetness is amplified by the sauteed onions. The olives add pops of saltiness that get mellowed by the gooey, slightly chewy puddles of cheese.

It’s a dish that could be served alongside most anything at any time of year. And yes, that includes a bronzed turkey, honey-glazed ham, majestic prime rib, and all the usual holiday suspects.

A recipe to keep handy in your repertoire.
A recipe to keep handy in your repertoire.

Baked Cauliflower with Black Olives and Cheese

(Serves 6)

1/2 cup olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon for the pan

Fine sea salt

2 medium heads cauliflower, cut into large florets

1 small yellow onion, very finely chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

8 ounces (225 g) primo sale, tuma, provola cheese, sliced or a mild provolone or lightly salted mozzarella, sliced

1/2 cup black olives, pitted and halved

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Oil a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with the 1 tablespoon olive oil.

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the cauliflower and cook until crisp-tender but not at all mushy, about 5 minutes. Drain well, then spread the cauliflower in the prepared baking pan.

In a medium skillet, cook the onion in 1/4 cup of the olive oil over medium heat, stirring often, until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and scatter the onions over the cauliflower florets. Season lightly with salt and pepper, keeping in mind that the olives and the cheese will add quite a bit of saltiness. Drape the sliced cheese over the cauliflower, then scatter the olives on top. Drizzle the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil over everything.

Bake until the top is nice and golden, 20 to 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note: The dish can be assembled up to 6 hours in advance of baking and refrigerated.

From “The Food of Sicily” by Fabrizia Lanza

More Cauliflower Recipes to Enjoy: Grains with Roasted Cauliflower, Black Olives, and Oranges

And: Cauliflower Salad with Eggs and Anchovies

And: Cauliflower with Raisins

And: Char Siu Roasted Cauliflower by Andrea Nguyen

And: Kung Pao Cauliflower

And: Modern Cauliflower Gratin by America’s Test Kitchen

And: Roasted Cauliflower with Cumin, Turmeric, and Lemon

And: Roasted Cauliflower with Sesame by Anthony Bourdain

And: Roasted Manchurian Cauliflower

And: Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Mustard, Citrus and IPA

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  • While this dish might not be the first one to think of for a summer meal, it sounds so interesting that I’ll be giving it a try.

  • Hi Karen: Yup, maybe not a dish in summer when it’s a particularly scorching day. But it’s definitely worth digging into on a breezy summer night.

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