Cauli & Queso

15 Mar

Many might say that Sunday was the polar opposite of Saturday. Rather, it was a perfect balance. Saturday, I woke up and immediately thought, I must be outside, whereas Sunday, was all soft grey, and rainy, the perfect morning to laze about the house drinking tea and browsing through the “library.” For some reason, the boy grabbed Pamela Thomas’ Greenmarket.

He thumbed through this little jewel of a book, but was simply captivated by “Most Voluptuous Cauliflower,” a recipe from Anne Rosensweig of the Lobster Club (I did a quick google search, and much to my dismay this fabulous sounding restaurant is closed, and I couldn’t determine if Chef Rosensweig has landed anywhere else).

That he should fixate on a cauliflower recipe is nothing new. Everyone’s got their “thing;” his is cruciform vegetables in all colors, shapes and sizes (cauli, romanesca, brocc-(oli, oflower, rabe, etc), cabbage in all colors, and yes, Brussels sprouts). And my thing? Without pause; mushrooms. I think easily I could include mushrooms in everything (and often do) and eat happily for the rest of my life. You’ll see the fusion of these two passions in just one second….

Out and about, strolling through the mist, I asked what the boy wanted to do with the rest of the cheese from DiPalo’s. Without skipping a beat, “cauliflower!” he said.

cauli & queso
Okay, cool, I had a drizzle day mission. So off I traipsed to pick up a new Emile Henry baking dish from TJMaxx (such an overlooked resource for great, cheap housewares in the city!), some crimini mushrooms, thyme and, of course, cauliflower.

The dish came together in a snap. I used Chef Rosensweig’s recipe only as jumping off point. I decided to use a Shaker white sauce as the binding agent. I believe the French call it bechamel. (To be exact, I used White Sauce #2 from Amy Bess Miller & Presis Fuller’s opus, and my favorite cookbook in the whole world, The Best Of Shaker Cooking).

For the final dish, I just tried to create what mental image the name evoked to me, and man was the final dish decadent. Please try this the next time you’re craving something rather simple, but completely, soul-satisfyingly comforting. This is basically your grandmother’s mac & cheese, just with cauliflower in place of the elbow macaroni.

And possibly the best part of this meal was that it paired absolutely perfectly with my favorite wine in the entire world, the bunny wine, also known at Le Mas Au Schiste.  It comes from this vineyard (warning site only in French) in Languedoc, and as you can see from the picture on the site, that’s no cute bunny! In fact, at one shop where I get my fix of this wine, they had no idea what I was asking for, they thought the animal was some sort of gorgon!  Either way, this is one of the most amazing wines I’ve ever tasted in my life, but I don’t get to drink it much, because I can’t always find it.  At least I’ve got one bottle still left in the cellar!

recipe and another glamour shot after the break

Cauli & Queso

prep time: 45 minutes ~ cooking time: 40-60 minutes

  • two heads Cauliflower
  • 1 package Crimini Mushrooms
  • Garlic
  • Thyme
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 tbsp. Lemon Juice
  • 1 tsp. Mushroom Ketchup (if you’ve got it)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • one stale Baguette
  • 4 tbsps. Butter
  • 4tbsps. Flour
  • 2 cups Milk
  • 1 tsp. Colman’s Dry Mustard
  • 1 small container grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/2 of a knot of fresh Mozzarella, cubed
  • a nice chunk of your favorite Peccorino, grated

Set a large pot of salted, acidulated water to boil, meanwhile, clean, core and chop the cauliflower into both large and smaller florets. Add them to the water and cook until the largest pieces are just crisp-tender. Drain, and cool. Place off to the side in the baking dish you’re going to use.

Thinly slice the mushrooms. In a small skillet over medium-low flame, add a healthy glug of olive oil and, using a garlic press (yes, a garlic press) squeeze as many cloves of garlic as you’d like into the oil (I used 4 really fat, healthy cloves). Allow to cook lightly, add the mushrooms and jack up the heat and allow the mushrooms to sizzle away, until they’ve got a little caramelization on them and have released their juices. Add the lemon juice, mushroom ketchup and the leaves pulled off of a few sprigs of thyme. Stir to mix, taste and then adjust with salt and pepper (the mushroom ketchup is very salty, so do not add salt before you taste the sauce!). Cook until the liquid is reduced and shiny. Place mushrooms in a bowl and set aside with the cauliflower.

In a cuisinart, pulverize your stale baguette. In a large skillet over a low flame, add a healthy glug of olive oil and again, using a garlic press, squeeze as many cloves of garlic as you’d like into the oil (again, I used 4, smaller this time however). Allow to sizzle a little and then add your bread crumbs. Stir, stir and stir some more. Allow to sit while you pull some leaves off a couple more sprigs of thyme. Add to the crumbs and stir, stir, stir until they achive a goregous, sexy golden color. Turn out into a bowl and set aside.

In a heavy small pot over very low heat melt the butter then add the flour, whisking constantly and cook very slowly for about 2-4 minutes. Do not let it brown. Gradually, in a thin stream, drizzle milk into the pot whisking constantly. Turn the heat up the very slightest bit, add the dry mustard and season with salt and pepper. Continue whisking and cooking until the sauce has thickened, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat.

Turn your oven on to 400 degrees.

Spoon the mushrooms over the cauliflower. Sprinkle the store bought cheese over the mushrooms. Pour your white sauce over it all and pop the dish into the oven. Allow to cook for 20 minutes.

Pull the dish out, turn the heat up to 450 degrees. Tuck the chunks of mozzarella into the cauliflower (try to avoid placing them too close to the sides of your dish for an easier clean up). Place back into the oven for 10 minutes.

Pull the dish out, turn the heat up to 500 degrees. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the dish, then sprinkle the Peccorino over the whole lot. Place back in the oven for 10 minutes.

Pull the dish out and gaze at how goregous this dish is and how good it’s going to taste and then dig in! Spoon into a bowl and be prepared to be adored, comforted and very, very happy!


This recipe was adapated from Most Voluptuous Cauliflower, a recipe by Anne Rosensweig and published in Greenmarket by Pamela Thomas and White Sauce #2 from The Best Of Shaker Cooking by Amy Bess Miller and Persis Fuller.


One Response to “Cauli & Queso”

  1. david March 15, 2006 at 8:33 pm #

    i like simple roasted cauliflower — just take fresh florets, toss them in olive oil and salt and pepper, and roast at 475 until it’s crispy, about 35-40 minutes. it’s like candy, perfect finger food when you’re watching a movie or something…

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