Polenta & Parmigiano Crusted Cauliflower Slabs

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I really love cauliflower. I can’t say that I always did. As a kid, my mom used to disguise it by slathering the entire head with buttery bread crumbs. It gave the soft cauliflower a much needed texture and provided a yummy, crunchy flavor before hitting the softness of the veg. That crispy texture was everything. Maybe that’s where my need to crunchy foods emerged. Ah ha, case solved.

I have grown to love cauliflower more and more over the years, and have cut it up, roasted it up, spiced it up a few different ways. My famously easy Faux Creamy Cauliflower Soup launched this blog and is an all time favorite among my readers. I Spiced & Roasted it. I’ve made it into a cheesy dip and even put it in a vegetable soup. This cruciferous, nutritious vegetable is a versatile little bugger.

On this cauliflower adventure I traveled back to my youth, and that first encounter - cauliflower with a crunch. I decided to take the encrusted idea to a new level. As you know, I can’t eat bread, which means the crunch would have to come from something other than bread crumbs. But what? I dug into my Italian heritage looking for crusty, gluten free ideas. Voilá, aka Ecco in Italian. Not one thing Italian. 2 things Italian would do the trick. Polenta and Parmigiano Reggiano.

And I’m not kidding when I say that this is truly an easy, roast veg dish. As some of you have said, “oh, easy for you.” But this, my friends, is ridiculously easy.

Ingredients

1 large cauliflower head
1/4 c polenta
3/4 c Parmigiano Reggiano
1/4 t salt
1/8 t pepper
Olive oil

You can either cut the cauliflower head into small florets or slice big slabs. I did both since you can really only get 3-4 slabs then little florets naturally fall off.

For this test run, I only used a 3 main ingredients. Call it the getting my feet wet before I dove in deep.

All this white will turn a beautiful golden brown.

All this white will turn a beautiful golden brown.

Instructions

  1. Wash, dry then cut the cauliflower into slabs

  2. Arrange the pieces on a baking sheet and drizzle them with oil, salt and pepper and bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile grate the cheese and set aside.

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Combine the polenta and cheese together.

Combine the polenta and cheese together.

4. Once the cauliflower is browned, flip them. Once flipped, douse them with the crunch factor, aka Polenta and Parm mix. Drizzle with more oil and back in the oven until browned and crunchy.

See those nicely browned spots. That equals yum.

See those nicely browned spots. That equals yum.

Make sure you coat all the surfaces. You’ll want that crunchy goodness everywhere.

Make sure you coat all the surfaces. You’ll want that crunchy goodness everywhere.

Up close and looking good.

Up close and looking good.

The polenta really adds the crunch factor. And I just loved that golden color. I kept it simple for this first revival of crunchy cauliflower, but I think you can imagine how easy it would be to spice these up and change the flavor profile. You could add turmeric and cumin for more Indian flavors. Or oregano and basil to amp up the Italian theme. Go for 5 spice or Caradom for an earthy flavor with a hint of sweet. Sky is the limit, my friends.

These make a perfect side dish for any meal. Or enjoy a slab with a large salad for lunch.

Cauliflower: Spiced & Roasted

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I'm not sure which came first the cauliflower ideas or the idea to use cauliflower to mark the anniversary of this blog.  If have you been reading this blog from its inception you will recall that I launched the blog with my Faux Creamy Cauliflower Soup recipe, and then ended that year with a Creamy, Cheesy Cauliflower Dip.  Clearly, I like cauliflower and make it during the winter months. I love having that creamy soup on a cool fall or cold winter's day. As you know, I am also a fan of roasting. So the remainder of the time, I roast cauliflower. Just some plain Jane roasted cauliflower. (Poor Jane, we have no idea whether she was plain or not but she sure does get the short end of that stick.)

So instead of plain Jane roasted cauliflower, this time would prove different.  I have spices and I like to use them.  I especially like using turmeric because of its anti-inflammatory benefits.  With my cauliflower's need to not be plain and my need for variety, I opened the spice cabinet. 

I literally just pinched a little of this and a little of that right onto the sheet pan with oil and mixed it all around.  Then smushed (yes, the very technical term for imparting all that flavor onto the vegetable) the cauliflower around making sure the entire surface was covered with the tiny particulars of flavor.  While it was roasting, I decided to make a 'salsa' for a finishing topping. 

ingredients

1 head of cauliflower, sliced in slabs
3 T olive oil

pinches of:
cayenne
paprika
turmeric
salt
black pepper
red pepper flakes

Topping (optional)
1/4 c basil leaves
1/4 c mint leaves
1 medium garlic clove
1/8 t coarse sea salt
1/4 c olive oil

Instructions

As I mentioned, this was as easy as pour the oil on the roasting sheet and then add the spices and mix until you get a pasty mixture. 

Spiced oil mixture.  Basil, mint standing by to become a 'salsa'.

Spiced oil mixture.  Basil, mint standing by to become a 'salsa'.

Cut the cauliflower in slabs so you get a tree like slab. 

Cauliflower 'trees'

Cauliflower 'trees'

Place them on the pan and make sure they are fully coated with the spice mixture. Roast at 425 degrees, turning once to make sure both sides get a good suntan, back and front.  No one wants a tan on the front and a milky white backside. While the cauliflower is roasting, use a mortar and pestle to crush the basil, mint, garlic and salt together to form a paste. Then add the oil to create a salsa like mixture. (You can also use a mini blender.)

Swimming around in spices, these cauliflower slabs are ready for roasting.

Swimming around in spices, these cauliflower slabs are ready for roasting.

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I think this side dish would be a nice addition to a Meze platter. A perfect side dish to fish or steak.  Of course, any Indian inspired food would be a natural plate partner.  I served myself a slab alongside some sautéd kale, and garlic mashed potatoes.  I dabbed a bit of the mint/basil oil on top. It gave it more of a kick.  Jill and JC liked the cauliflower all by itself.  I venture to say that if you added yogurt to the basil/mint that the cream and fat content would be a lovely complement to that mixture.  As far as the roasting, this method can lead to a variety of other spice mixes.  Try it with oregano or Chinese Five Spice.  Whatever tickles your spice fancy.

Weekend Guests -Life's Colorful Stroll

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You can't hide behind the wine... or the fork.

You can't hide behind the wine... or the fork.

Our world is made up of a bunch small moments.  Each strung together to make up a life.  And when those small moments are fulfilling and memorable, then that string makes up a beautiful life.  Mine is a long string of glistening pearls. Moments upon moments that bring me joy and memories that squarely plant a smile on both my face and heart. 

Last fall I added to that string when we hosted our friends from Miami who have a passion for photography. (Well, Marta has more than passion.  It's her profession. Check out her work here .)

They wanted to enjoy the cool fall weather and snap shots of the changing of the seasons. Which, of course,  is a big deal to them being from a one season city. It ended up being a spectacular weekend as the weather was cool but pleasant, the leaves were all starting to turn and gave way to a rainbow explosion.  The bursts of colors were emblematic of our feelings of spending time together.  Bright and cheerful with the crisp air breathing life into our souls.  

Lake view
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On weekends like these, entertaining takes a more relaxed vibe. We keep the food simple so we can spend quality time together. Plus with all the other activities going on who wants to spend oodles of time in the kitchen.  Simple entertaining doesn’t have to mean boring. It just means easy preparation, few ingredients with big flavors.  

Day One - An evening at home with cocktails, snacks & poached salmon

Since I was working in the city, the first night’s meal was prepared by my hubby who made an easy poached salmon with vegetables.  While we waited for the meal to be ready we downed the 'way to easy to drink' Citrus Martinis while snacking on some cheese, olives, marinated garlic cloves and the famous crowd pleasing nut, Marcona almonds (all of which I brought home with me from Despaña.)

Citrus cilantro jalapeño Martinis.  Refreshing and the perfect drink to get the evening started.

Citrus cilantro jalapeño Martinis.  Refreshing and the perfect drink to get the evening started.

I also roasted up some tomatoes ahead of time.  These are the easiest 'must have' staple in your fridge.  Since they are made with enough oil to keep them cured for awhile, they are a savior to pull out in a pinch.  Which is what I did, and then served it on crusty bread.  Our friend, Illy's, reaction to the simplicity but deliciousness of this bite... Priceless.

The OMG moment of food ectasty 

The OMG moment of food ectasty 

After the snacks and the drinks came the easy 'meal in bowl' dish; Poached Salmon   

Ingredients

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(serves 4)
1.5 lb Salmon
1/2 yellow onion, cut in quarters
2-3 carrots, cut in 1" pieces
2-3 ribs of celery, cut in 1" pieces
4-5 new potatoes, cut into small chunks
Oil, salt, pepper

Directions: 

Sauté for 2-3 minutes only all the vegetables in a large, deep pan using oil and seasoning with salt and pepper.  Then place the seasoned salmon on top of all the vegetables and fill the pan with water to cover the fish.  Place a cover on the pan and cook over a low heat to a simmer until the fish has turned a pale pink.  Should take about 12-18 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.  You can leave the vegetables whole or blend them up to create a puree.

 


Day Two - Fahnestock State Park followed by cauliflower soup, snap peas, salad, scallops
The following day we drove up to Clarence Fahnestock State Park wandering around, climbing up rocks and snapping off photographs as if film were free. Oh, that's right, we had digital cameras.  Snap a 1000 and deal with it later! 

Things are looking up for me.  Photo credit: Marta Neira

Things are looking up for me.  Photo credit: Marta Neira

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Quite honestly, as eye catching as some of the photos are, they never seem to capture the true beauty of nature in its most vibrant state.

JC taking a test digital photo before using his film camera.

JC taking a test digital photo before using his film camera.

The stillness of water reveals stark reflections 

The stillness of water reveals stark reflections 

Reflections of a vibrant kind

Reflections of a vibrant kind

After being out in the chill of the day, we needed a little warmth.  What better answers that call than soup.  That night's no fuss easy line up:

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Day Three - Stone Barns followed by pizza, shrimp & salad
We drove Marta and Illy to one of our favorite local treasures; Stone Barns at Rockefeller State Perserve   I think you can tell by those smiles that we had a good time.  We hiked around for a leisurely 5 mile trek capturing even more photos of fall’s abundance. Crayola crayons, eat your heart out.

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Illy's gentle essence

Illy's gentle essence

Marta's soulful smile

Marta's soulful smile

JC with one of his vintage cameras. Photo credit: Marta Neira

JC with one of his vintage cameras. Photo credit: Marta Neira

Marta & Illy admiring the cows at Stone Barns

Marta & Illy admiring the cows at Stone Barns

On our familiar path at Rockefeller Park

On our familiar path at Rockefeller Park

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Oodles of color and lushness.

Oodles of color and lushness.

Upon returning for our final evening together, we felt like keeping it cozy with comfort food. I made an array of pizzas as appetizers followed by a quick sauté of shrimp and a salad.  Since we had been out on photography adventures all weekend, there was no time to make homemade dough. Store bought version does the trick and works like a charm.  

Keeping it warm by the stove

Keeping it warm by the stove

Spreading roasted garlic mash on the dough

Spreading roasted garlic mash on the dough

I add oil to a bowl, plop the dough inside, cover with a towel and don't let the dough rise too much.  Then I stretch it out with my hands into whatever shape it feels like making and add various toppings.  Here's a few we served that night.

Hot off the stone

Hot off the stone

Roasted tomato, roasted garlic, basil & Parmesan cheese pizza

Roasted tomato, roasted garlic, basil & Parmesan cheese pizza

Fresh tomato slices, goat & Parmesan cheese pizza

Fresh tomato slices, goat & Parmesan cheese pizza

Roasted red pepper & goat cheese pizza

Roasted red pepper & goat cheese pizza

After that yummy goodness, some greens and a protein were all that was needed. 

  • Sautéed jumbo shrimp (with garlic, scallions)
  • Boston salad with celery, fennel, scallion
     
Similar to my  Graped up Bibb Salad

Similar to my Graped up Bibb Salad

Jumbo shrimp with garlic & scallions

Jumbo shrimp with garlic & scallions

There was nothing extraordinary about any of these dishes other than good ingredients made with absolute love.  There was, however, moments of extraordinary all weekend long.  Hosting weekend guests doesn't have to turn your life upside down.  And even if it does, you will always land right side up.

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Take a colorful stroll, breathe in the crisp Fall season, spend time with people you love, then return home to a warm meal. Fill your life with special moments and string together your own pearl necklace. 
 

A colorful stoll

A colorful stoll

The girls.  Photo Credit: JuanCarlos Casas

The girls.  Photo Credit: JuanCarlos Casas

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Creamy, Cheesy Cauliflower Dip

Creamy, steamy, cheesy and delicious cauliflower dip

Creamy, steamy, cheesy and delicious cauliflower dip

Cauliflower:  the big, white, bulbous veg that is so versatile.  It can be crunchy when roasted, or creamy when pureed.  It's nutritious and delicious. (and even facilitates my propensity to rhyme.) Seriously, what more can you ask of it.  But I did. Please can you be a creamy, cheesy dip for my cocktail party? And the answer was, Sure Thing. 

Since this dip was such a hit for my post Thanksgiving cocktail party I thought it only fitting and quite appropriate to bookend the year by posting another cauliflower dish.  I started this blog with the simple but versatile Faux Creamy Cauliflower Soup and I end the year with another simple but this time decadent cauliflower dish that will help ring in the New Year's Eve.  There is no faux in the creamy nature of this dip. It's real, alright.  And it's cheesy, gooeyness is completely sanctioned when one is kicking out the old and cheering in the new.

Just as with the soup you can add a variety of extras as you desire.  You can even play with different spices, too. This is was my first attempt at asking my cauliflower to be dippable so I didn't venture too far into the experimental.  That said, we did just fine.  Here are the basics.

Ingredients

1 head of cauliflower
1/4 c shallots, minced
1/4 c onion, minced
2 small cloves garlic, minced
Magic 3 (oil, salt, pepper)
1/8 t red pepper flakes (optional, if you like a little heat)
1/2 c sautéd escarole (optional, I had some leftover from the Escarole Rolls so I tossed it in)
2/3 c fontina, grated (or cheese of your choice, Gruyere would be yummy)
Crusty bread, for serving
Endive, gluten free option for serving

Instructions

Break up the cauliflower in pieces and boil it in salted water. 

Remove, reserving 1 cup of the liquid for pureeing.  Set cauliflower aside while you sauté the onion, shallots and garlic, seasoning as they get nice and soft.  Then add the cooked cauliflower and let it get coated with that flavor.

Next step is to make it creamy.  Place the mixture into a food processor and puree, adding a little of the reserved liquid as needed to get the consistency you want.  Remember, you can always add but cannot take away, so go slowly to determine whether you want it chunky or super smooth.  At this point, please taste and adjust your seasonings as you see fit.  As I mentioned, since I had some leftover sautéd escarole, after I removed the mixture from the processor, I folded it in.

cauliflower puree

cauliflower puree

leftover sautéd escarole

leftover sautéd escarole

The mixture awaiting it's cheese partner.

The mixture awaiting it's cheese partner.

Place the mixture into an oven proof baking dish that can also be used to serve. I bought the one pictured from Despaña.  They have terra cotta cazuelas in a variety of sizes, and this one is perfect.  Then comes the best part, the CHEESE. Did I say I like cheese?  If you know me, you already knew that.  Add the cheese into the entire mixture, plus sprinkle some on top. Bake at 350 until nice and bubbly.  

Serve warm with crusty bread, endive or any other vegetable for dipping.  

Here's to ringing in the New Year with Health & Wealth of heart, body and mind.  May you reach for the stars, touch them and be electrified to do great things.  May love and peace show up at your door each day.  And may you know when to have faux creaminess and when it's absolutely necessary to have the real thing.  

Thank you all for your support and onto new food bites in 2017!

Kale, Potato, Lentil, Cauliflower... Everything but the Kitchen Sink Soup

This is a little story of what happens when I decide to pull everything out of my refrigerator and start cooking.  Yesterday was just such a day, as the chill of autumn has descended upon us, I thought I would make soup.  Since I had cauliflower I was figuring on making my old standby (and very first blog post) Faux Creamy Cauliflower Soup.  Alas, and I will say thankfully,  I opted to go back to my roots of not repeating recipes too often but instead exploring new territories.  

As I've said before, when I go shopping I buy what looks fresh without necessarily having a plan for how to cook them. Such was the case during last week's shop.  As I took these ingredients out and placed them on my board, my first thought was to make separate dishes with each.

Here's what I found: Cauliflower, Kale, French Lentils, Fingerling Potatoes, Red Onion and Garlic

Here's what I found: Cauliflower, Kale, French Lentils, Fingerling Potatoes, Red Onion and Garlic

And because the original plan was individual dishes and use the cauliflower for soup, that soup idea grabbed a hold of me and wouldn't let go.  It was just then when the it dawned on me that EVERYTHING I had could indeed be SOUP. Now here's the triple play of culinary delights:  
I didn't have to make separate dishes.
I was still sticking to my original idea of soup.
Plus the big bonus of throwing it all together...  ONE POT!

I had to think this one through to make sure that I cooked this one in the correct stages without having to switch pots.  Also fair warning for this recipe, I won't be giving amounts as this one really harkens back to my something from nothing style.  Use what you have in the quantities you have.

ingredients

Cauliflower
Kale (chopped)
French Lentils
Fingerling Potatoes (cut in bite size pieces)
Red onion (cut in small pieces)
Garlic
Magic 3 (Oil, Salt, Pepper)

Instructions

I started out as if I were making the cauliflower soup (click on the link for recipe reference) but cut the onions small since these were not going to be blended up but in fact be a supporting player in the soup.

When the cauliflower was about cooked about ¾ done, I added the potatoes pieces and lentils. 

Once everything was tender, I pulled out about half of the cauliflower because I didn’t think the soup needed that much cauliflower.  I figured I would blend up the removed portion and still have faux creamy cauliflower soup.   Then I realized that adding some of that back into this soup would add thickness and richness. (But by that time I ate some I only had about 2/3 cup to add to the main soup. Add as much or as little as you want to achieve a 'creaminess' level of your liking.)

 I then added the kale, checked for seasoning and turned the heat off.  The soup is warm enough at this point to wilt the kale.

This came out hearty and earthy and a really lovely blend of a handful of odd and ends from my fridge.  So, let’s recap.  You can follow this recipe as I stated.  Or you can look through your kitchen and create a soup out of what you have.  Here are some ideas for replacement options for the ones I used.

other potential leading characters

Kale = spinach, escarole, mustard greens
Cauliflower =  broccoli, cabbage
Potato = sweet potato, turnip, yucca
Lentil =  chick peas, cannellini beans

Well, you get the idea.  Try my version or play around with any of the above suggestions to make your own version of the “Everything but the Kitchen Sink Soup”.  Falling into the crispness of this season isn’t so bad when you can be warmed by a soup like this.  

Footnote:  As you can see this made a nice big pot of soup which left enough for the next day.  I made jasmine rice and added it to the day old soup.  Yup, it made it even yummier.