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.

5 Appetizers That Impress & Relieve Stress

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Let’s face it, it’s not only during the holidays when we need easy appetizer ideas. Handy dandy, simple offerings are in demand throughout the year. These 5 appetizers can certainly be used anytime, but will surely be useful right about now.

Now when it comes to navigating entertaining, we can be the driver of our own roadmap. It’s up to us to take control. It can be as elaborate as a sit down plated meal with several courses. Or as simple as making a salad, a vegetable and protein. Or even simpler (and better!) a huge bowl of pasta. But it is up to each host/hostess to decide whether to make it complicated or easy. Admittedly, there are times when entertaining calls for a little more pizzazz. And I would venture to say that the holidays definitely require a little more brio. Believe it or not, adding an appetizer to any meal can elevate an evening. I always want my guests to feel special, whether it’s a weeknight meal, an weekend dinner or a big party celebration, and I’ve found that serving appetizers somehow ups the ante and makes any event feel special. But please, let’s not confuse special with hard and stressful.

How I plan out what appetizers I will serve depends on my mood, and it can swing full pendulum, from easy breezy all the way to ones that require a day of prep, cook time and time in plating. For me, it all comes down to how much experimenting I want to do, and how much time I have to play. But that’s just me. I like trying new things and being adventurous. But sometimes, I need speed and simplicity. Luckily, in my experimenting I have come up with a few apps that don’t take a ton of effort, and really please my guests.

Here are Apps that impress AND relieve stress.
(Disclaimer: In no means are these appetizers magical or medicinal in their ability to relieve stress. It’s soley their ease, and delicious impact that creates a stress free zone! Well, I might consider that magic.)

Shaved Parmigiano with Roasted Peppers & Hazelnuts

This is as easy as using a flick of the wrist. That is, one that is holding a vegetable peeler. Simply shave slices of Parmigiano Reggiano. Roll roasted pepper strips up into rosettes or twirls. (A good jarred kind is the way to go. Even I admit, roasting your own peppers is more work than it’s worth. This is definitely one time when homemade doesn’t make sense!) Arrange the platter as you like. I like all the peppers in the middle with the cheese acting like a moat. Then generously sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts. It seriously could not be simpler.

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Platter of Crunch - Fennel Bites & Cucumber Carrot Roll Ups

I always like having a platter with a fresh offering. Not only does it help to refresh the palate but it’s a satisfying treat for the vegetarians. Create a platter full of fresh vegetables. You can use whatever you like but I love big chunks of fennel drizzled with olive oil, course sea salt and pepper. Ribbons of English cucumber plain or rolled up with carrot shreds. The carrots were marinated in a basil balsamic vinaigrette. Check out the recipe here.

My method for platter arrangement is color blocking. I think this looks inviting. Do what pleases your eye and your palate.

Fresh fennel, cucumber and carrots are refreshing and crunchy.

Fresh fennel, cucumber and carrots are refreshing and crunchy.

Fresh Ricotta with Herbs & Oven Roasted Tomatoes

Well, if you took my advice in late summer and roasted a bunch of tomatoes and stored them away, then this one is as easy as opening that container. (Now you understand why I suggest this because the tomatoes can be used in so many ways.) But if you don’t have any roasted tomatoes in your freezer, making a fresh batch is not difficult. Click for The Great Tomato Caper post. For the rest of the dish, simply buy fresh ricotta and spoon it into a bowl creating a nice mound. Generously sprinkle course sea salt, freshly cracked pepper, chopped basil and drizzle with good olive oil. Arrange the roasted tomatoes around and serve with crusty bread.

This combo of sweet tomatoes with fresh creamy ricotta is one that will keep your guests coming back for another smattering.

This combo of sweet tomatoes with fresh creamy ricotta is one that will keep your guests coming back for another smattering.

Sauteéd mushrooms & polenta chips

This one takes a bit more time, but you can actually do some of this ahead of time. I’ve served this appetizer several different ways. Click here for the recipe. In this version I made the polenta squares thinner so they act more like a cracker. Your guests can make their own little bite with as much or as little sauteéd mushrooms as they want. Heck, if you also serve the Ricotta dish, guests can top their polenta squares with mushrooms and a bit of ricotta!

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Dry Cured Meat & Arugula Platter

This seriously could not be simpler than buying and arranging. Pick up your favorite dry cured meat and serve it up with some spicy baby arugula. Guests can roll up the meat with some zest greens for a crisp, salty bite. I love keeping it simple and rustic by serving it right on a wooden board.
Some dry cured meats that I like to serve: Bresaola, Prosciutto or Serrano ham, Capacollo, Mortadella, Coppa.

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I hope these few ideas help keep your stress levels down this holiday season. I really don’t like that I keep repeating that, but it is true that the holidays, and entertaining can be just that - intense. I’m here to help in any way I can, because for me, gathering together with the people you love, serving them food you all love is a glorious thing. And something for which we can all be grateful.

Stirred with love, these apps are just as easy as the ones we download on our phones!

 

Sunday Blues - of the Soothing, Swooning Kind

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So the story goes... I needed to go to IKEA.  You must be wondering why, since I don’t need another napkin or tablecloth, dish or candle, or anything for that matter.  But alas, we did need a new patio table. Pause a moment, to digest the thought that we are replacing our 17 year old IKEA teak table with the exact same table. Not only proving the enduring quality of some of IKEA’s items, but lo and behold, the table's solid quaility has kept it on their selling list after all these years.  Since we loved it so much, why mess with a good thing.  And that was what steered my vehicle to IKEA.

The brand, spanking new  IKEA table . And it was the very last one standing in the aisle. I totally lucked out.

The brand, spanking new IKEA table. And it was the very last one standing in the aisle. I totally lucked out.

Now, I'm sure many of you have wandered through IKEA and know that there is only one route... the one they force you to take through the entire store.  Naturally, on my search for the table, I picked up a few other items along the way.  It’s one of those stores where you say, “oh, this is only $5, and that is only $3”. But by the time all your items roll down the conveyor belt into the big blue plastic IKEA bag you just purchased (again) to carry home your 'stuff', it is too late and the complete and utter sticker price shock of the final total hits, and hits hard.  Every dollar truly does add up, my friends. It’s a brilliant tactic.  Price a bunch of stuff low, creating a false 'inexpensive'  buying experience and then when the customer hasn't realized it they just spent a fortune in your store.  There is a sucker born every day, and I was born again on that day.

In filing up of my big blue bag, I happened upon blue and white dish towels. Why? you ask. Didn't I just say I don't need another thing?  Well, because I am drawn to simple, pretty things.  I can’t tell explain exactly why, but I absolutely adore the stark contrast of blue against white. Like a vision of some Greek village. It makes my knees buckle.  So I bought two packs. I wasn’t sure if I would make pillows out of them.  Use them as actual dish towels? Incorporate them into one of my apron designs?  I just had to have them.  It’s a sickness, I fully recognize that.  Who gets swoony over dish towels?  Apparently... ME.

I did none of the above with them. Instead they came to the rescue in another way. We were hosting a BBQ this past Sunday and since I was feeling quite under the weather I didn't have a tablecloth plan.  Literally 1 hour before the guests arrived I still had decided what the table would look like. These dish towels would now become napkins that would grace my outdoor table-scape.  I guess my hubby knew that blue and white swoons me because when I asked him to pick me up flowers in the city at Dahlia, what did he choose? Blue and Whites.  It was fate.

3 arrangements lined the center table and created a harmony of blue.

3 arrangements lined the center table and created a harmony of blue.

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As I unrolled the dish towels, I realized each one was a different graphic design, and if even possible, I loved them that much more. So my need for high contrast, plus my obsession with not being matchy-matchy was thoroughly satisfied. A cornflower blue tablecloth tossed down, white dishes stacked up in order of food served, topped with blue and white IKEA dishtowels twisted once pluse florals to repeat the theme... I’d say Sunday afternoon blues are feeling just fine.

A single, simple twist of the 'napkin' placed over the stack of dishes creates an laid back vibe. LOVE LOVE LOVE the different graphic pattern and how easy and casual it makes it all feel.

A single, simple twist of the 'napkin' placed over the stack of dishes creates an laid back vibe.
LOVE LOVE LOVE the different graphic pattern and how easy and casual it makes it all feel.

Zucchini Crudo

Zucchini Crudo

Cucumber/Smoked Trout rounds are easy.  Chop the trout into small pieces, mix with sour cream, using a scoop dollop onto a slice of cucumber and top with more sour cream.

Tomato & Mozzarella Tart

Tomato & Mozzarella Tart

Cucumber topped with smoked trout & sour cream

Cucumber topped with smoked trout & sour cream

InterMezzo
Steamed Mussels with ciabatta

Steamed mussels with herbs, garlic and wine.

Steamed mussels with herbs, garlic and wine.


First course
Pasta with fresh herbs & garlic, grated Parmigiano Reggiano & Roasted Tomatoes

Main Course
Grilled Iberíco Pork Shoulder & End Loin  
Grilled Langostinos
Corn on the Cob
Nectarine/Corn Arugula Salad

Presa Iberíca and Pluma Iberíca are pork should and end loin cuts from Iberíco pigs. The pork is marbled with flavorful fat that melts in your melt like no other. You can buy them these frozen only at  Despaña SoHo .

Presa Iberíca and Pluma Iberíca are pork should and end loin cuts from Iberíco pigs. The pork is marbled with flavorful fat that melts in your melt like no other. You can buy them these frozen only at Despaña SoHo.

Large and juicy, langostinos on the grill are divine.

Large and juicy, langostinos on the grill are divine.

Nectarine and Raw Corn Salad over Arugula and Boston Lettuce with an orange/lime vinigiarette.

Nectarine and Raw Corn Salad over Arugula and Boston Lettuce with an orange/lime vinigiarette.

Dessert
Peach Cobbler
Honey Dew
Cheese/Fruit Plate
S'Mores

This is a recipe from Ina Garten

This is a recipe from Ina Garten

Creates a nice crust to crack into with warm peaches below, then served with whipped cream

Creates a nice crust to crack into with warm peaches below, then served with whipped cream

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It was a wonderful day filled with LOVE. 
Food made with LOVE.
New  friends and old friends full of LOVE.
And blues that make you the other 's' word -  swoon

 

The new white marble LOVE addition to my collection was gifted to me with love by Angelica. You can never have too much.

Love is is the air. Angelica and Marcos

Love is is the air. Angelica and Marcos

JuanCarlos manning the grill, fortified with hydration.  Photo credit: Angelica Intriago

JuanCarlos manning the grill, fortified with hydration. Photo credit: Angelica Intriago

Gathering around the grill with our friends from Bilboa, Spain: Ana, JuanFran, their daughters, and Cecila   Photo credit: Angelica Intriago

Gathering around the grill with our friends from Bilboa, Spain: Ana, JuanFran, their daughters, and Cecila

Photo credit: Angelica Intriago

Who doesn't love the hammock. Also, in blue and white.  Photo credit: Angelica Intriago

Who doesn't love the hammock. Also, in blue and white. Photo credit: Angelica Intriago

JuanFran, quite the chef himself, giving JC a hand.  Photo credit: Angelica Intriago

JuanFran, quite the chef himself, giving JC a hand. Photo credit: Angelica Intriago

We have the A-OK sign!  Photo credit: Angelica Intriago

We have the A-OK sign! Photo credit: Angelica Intriago

Amore!!!  Photo credit: asithappens.format.com

Amore!!! Photo credit: asithappens.format.com

Zucchini Crudo with Shaved Parmigiano & Mint Oil

I have often heard my husband, JuanCarlos, talk about good design and how keeping it simple is one of the hardest to achieve.  It means that the elements need to stand purely on their own merit. Without any flashy accruements. Without any special effects or distractions. Their very essence must to be outstanding.  The same is true with simple food dishes.  The purity of the ingredients must be superb; because without fancy schmancy sauces or tons of other ingredients there truly is no where to hide.  Fresh flavor front and center. This is at the core of Italian cooking.  Few ingredients but fresh as hell, or we'll take you out at the knees.  

This zucchini crudo dish falls squarely in that corner.  Now you know my love/hate affair with zucchini.  It's a great vegetable but let's face it, it can sometimes be boring.  Over the years I have tried to take the ho hum of the zucch and give it some 'zazz.   (Check the various ways I have used them by searching zucchini on the blog.)  Case in point, last year while staying at our friend's country house I was faced with more zucchini.  I conjured up a Zucchini Carpaccio that featured a gutsy citrus punch of flavor.   For now, I want to stick with the Italian theme and  share the recreation of dish I recently had during our last visit to Tuscany.  In last week's posting I mentioned that I made this dish as part our Sunday afternoon meal in the Tuscan Hills of Montesperoli.  As promised, here it is.

Crudo. What a great word, meaning raw. There are many reasons to love crudo.  The first being... no cooking. Next, it's natural and naked.  Which is ideal for the summer.  I would venture to say that during these sultry months many of us prefer our food as well as our friends crudo - raw, natural and naked!  

Food wise, with the heat pounding down, the kitchen is the last place you want to be.  And consumption wise, who wants your food hotter than the weather? Something cool and refreshing is required.  This dish checks off all those boxes. Plus with 4th of July fast approaching, it's the perfect way to elevate that holiday BBQ.

There are four main ingredients that demand the utmost freshness.  Zucchini, Parmigiano Reggiano, fresh mint and lemons.  If any one of these are old and tired, then figure out something else to do with them.  

Italian Zucchini fresh from the garden

Italian Zucchini fresh from the garden

Cool, crisp mint and fresh lemons

Cool, crisp mint and fresh lemons

I'm not listing quantities because this is one of those platters that you make to the size you need.  For 7 people in Italy I used 3 large zucchini.  For the big party a few weeks ago, I used 5-6.  The amount of Parmigiano is up to you.

Instructions

Shave the zucchini lengthwise using a mandolin. You want long strips.  In Italy, Claudia, the villa owner, gave me a hand slicer which worked just fine. Albeit, it got scary as I reached the last part of the zucchini.  Watch your fingers, folks.  You need all of them.  

Shaving zucchini into ribbons of freshness.

Shaving zucchini into ribbons of freshness.

Arrange them on a plate by folding them over onto themselves for create a ribbon like effect. Circle your way around the plate, filling it to the middle. Shave shards of good, sharp Parmigiano Reggiano cheese over top. Shave until your heart's content.  

This was the plate I prepared for a recent family gathering. I just love how the zucchini falls over bowing with grace creating a spiral of garden goodness.

This was the plate I prepared for a recent family gathering. I just love how the zucchini falls over bowing with grace creating a spiral of garden goodness.

I like to create drama so I rolled a few zucchini slices to add to the middle of platter. It just finishes it in a fun way.

I like to create drama so I rolled a few zucchini slices to add to the middle of platter. It just finishes it in a fun way.

dressing

2 c packed fresh mint
2 T lemon juice
2 t lemon zest
1 c Olive oil
salt/pepper to taste

For the dressing, you can either mince up the mint, buzz it in a small processor or use a mortar and pestle to ground the mint.  Course sea salt, pepper, lemon juice and fruity olive oil are all you need.  Whisk together and drizzle over top.  

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The zucchini are crisp and mild. The parmigiano adds the salty bite.The mint is fragrant and the lemon juice brightens it all. ( I would say basil would work just as well for this dish.)  Simple ingredients showcasing their best. Now how simple was that.  I think good design can be simple, and simple design can be good when your star ingredients are just that... the stars.