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.

Sunday Brunch - Part Homemade/Part Not

A bounty of yum.

A bounty of yum.

Hosting a brunch can be easy, or a lot of work.  It can be made up of all the usual suspects, or a mash up of the expected and the unexpected.  I am never one to shy away from hard work, but I am also a huge fan of working smarter not harder.  So the idea of creating a sumptuous brunch spread that would serve up that mix with as much ease as possible was what I was aiming for.

One of the keys to achieving success; a good mash up of homemade items with banging good store bought items.  This greatly cuts down on the amount work.  Another huge help is asking guests to bring an item or two.  I'm sure your guests, as do ours, always ask, "what can I bring?" This is the perfect time to say "Bagels, or lox".  Or both!

Such was the case when we hosted a Sunday family brunch.  Our guests provided the bagels, lox and cream cheese. While we prepared the remaining dishes. 

For me, the perfect brunch is a like a moveable feast.  As with any party that isn't a sit down meal, there should be a decent variety of items ranging in temperatures and protein choices. A to and fro of movement.  Nibbling here, picking there. Foods that can last for several hours of conversation without too much fuss.

Here is what we offered up, and what was consumed with zeal.

When you buy quality products, the best plan is to let them shine with maybe just a few embellishments. That was the case with all of the "some assembly required" items. The Spanish sardines were enhanced with cucumbers and tomatoes. 

Spanish sardines with cucumber and fresh grape tomatoes.

Spanish sardines with cucumber and fresh grape tomatoes.

Cucumber slices bring a crisp, freshness to the intense sardine.

Cucumber slices bring a crisp, freshness to the intense sardine.

Plate them simply and use the rich oil they are packed in.

Plate them simply and use the rich oil they are packed in.

You've seen me use boquerones before. This brunch crowd loves them so, of course, I would serve them.  These fresh anchovies dressed with chopped garlic and parsley and good olive oil always get gobbled up.

I selected fish shaped dishes for these two under the sea selections. I love the shape and cobalt color. I've had these dishes for 30 years. Yes, you read that number correctly.

I selected fish shaped dishes for these two under the sea selections. I love the shape and cobalt color. I've had these dishes for 30 years. Yes, you read that number correctly.

Cheese/Charcuterie platters are another easy to assemble ahead offering that everyone loves.  And a perfect brunch item.  So go ahead and create one chock full of your favorite combinations.

It's always good to have a full board of charcuterie and cheese mixed with fruits, olives and nuts.

It's always good to have a full board of charcuterie and cheese mixed with fruits, olives and nuts.

The lentils were partially homemade, in that I used delicious precooked lentils that I get from Despaña but enhanced them by sautéing onions, carrots and celery then adding the lentils to warm through.  That simple.

This group of guests hadn't had my Eggplant Gemolata dish yet, so why not make it again. I did alter the feta topping, keeping it simple and not using the sun-dried tomatoes, olives and lemon zest but adding oven roasted tomatoes to finish the dish.  It was a huge hit with no left overs. This is one of those dishes that you can prep, then cook right before serving.  The flavors are powerful and beautifully melded. It has never let me down, no matter the event or the guest.

Eggplant with feta gremolata.

Eggplant with feta gremolata.

A little something for the meat lovers. Pork belly, lovingly prepared by JuanCarlos, cut in bite sized chunks and simply served on a wooden board.

Pork belly does take some time, as it is twiced cooked. Slow oven roasted to render the fat, then seared crispy in a skillet.

Pork belly does take some time, as it is twiced cooked. Slow oven roasted to render the fat, then seared crispy in a skillet.

The usual brunch suspects, bagels, lox, cream cheese are always welcome and always the perfect Sunday comfort food.

Bagels, lox, cream cheese, capers. Also served was Sushi grade Salmon Sashimi.

Bagels, lox, cream cheese, capers. Also served was Sushi grade Salmon Sashimi.

Eggplant, lentils and a bowl of the extra oven roasted tomatoes.

Eggplant, lentils and a bowl of the extra oven roasted tomatoes.

Make your life easy with the table setting.  Throw a graphic cloth down the middle as a landing strip for all the dishes. Then a simple stack of all the right plates, bowls and utensils in an easy to grab fashion keeps the laid back feeling going.

Finish with a little something sweet, Apple Tart.  And that's how part homemade/part not is done.

Create the vibe you want by selecting food that fits that mood.  A spread that spreads love.  One that invites conversation and fills their bellies and their souls.  What a great way to mark a Sunday, or any brunch day.

 
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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.

Apple Butter Spicy Sausage Sandwich + Roasted Tomato Soup

As some of you may know, I consult as a project manager for Despaña, a wholesale, distributor and retailer of Spanish food products.  From time to time my posts contain links to some the amazing products they offer.  With so many wonderful items in the store (and online) I find tons of inspiration and ways to incorporate them into a few of my recipes. 

However, this recipe harkens back to a few years back, when at the store, we were looking for ways to help promote some apple marmalade.  It was autumn in New York and apples were ripe for the picking.  I thought the perfect combination would be to highlight apples two ways; preserved  and crisp fresh. Since it would be used for a special promotion, the offering of a small sandwich featuring the marmalade along with fresh apples, some smoky cheese and Despaña’s own brand of spicy sausage called Chistorra seemed like a good union. The sandwich was popular at the time and served the purpose of showcasing the apple marmalade.

Well, it is again autumn in New York, a spectacular time of year with trees flaming bursts of color that make rainbows seems dull.  Take a moment of Ahhh here.

Given the season, I thought I would revive and recreate my original sandwich but swap out a few items.  Apples are in full glory now and hopefully you had the chance to go pick a few or just grab some at the market so you can try this recipe out.  

Photo credit: John Lifrieri

Photo credit: John Lifrieri

Photo credit: John Lifrieri

Photo credit: John Lifrieri

Photo credit: John Lifrieri

Photo credit: John Lifrieri

Behold, the sandwich featuring apples both cooked and fresh. When served along with a roasted tomato soup, it's perfect for a chilly Saturday afternoon... or any afternoon. 

APPLE BUTTER SPICY SAUSAGE  SANDWICH

INGREDIENTS

Chistorra*, or a spicy chorizo or even a salami  
Smoky Cheese of your choice like Smoked Gouda
(originally I used Ahumado de Pria*, a Spanish smoky cow's milk cheese.  A sharp Cheddar would also work nicely)
Apple Butter** (or Apple Marmalade)
Apple slices (I like the sourness of a green apple, but use what you like)
Baguette

**Apple butter recipe is at the bottom of this post.

INSTRUCTIONS

This is an assembly and grilling of a panino style sandwich than more anything else. Grill the Chistorra sausage and cut them lengthwise so they lay nicely in the sandwich.  Spread some apple butter on both sides of the bread. 

Layer the cheese, apple slices and sausage.  Close ‘er up and grill in a Panini press or as I do, use a cast iron pan and put something heavy on top.

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Getting crispy in a cast iron skillet

Getting crispy in a cast iron skillet

This combination has sweet and tart, spicy and smoky, crunchy and gooey.  Seriously, how can you not love all those adjectives.   And for the vegetarians, just remove the sausage, add more apples and more cheese.  Now, that can't be bad!

Apple Butter Spicy Sausage Sandwich, beautifully toasted on both sides

Apple Butter Spicy Sausage Sandwich, beautifully toasted on both sides

Now to take this to the ultimate pairing level, you'll want to add the roasted tomato soup.  I know you are going to say, “what’s your fascination with tomatoes?”  But if you have tried roasting them as I have suggested you will understand why there is no need to answer that question.  Plus, given that I suggested you make a boat load of roasted tomatoes, it's in my best interest to continue finding ways to use them.  This round -  Make soup! 

TOMATO SOUP - OVEN ROASTED OF COURSE

Drizzled with the oil from the roasting pan and chunks of cheese dropped in the middle.

Drizzled with the oil from the roasting pan and chunks of cheese dropped in the middle.

16-18 roasted tomatoes
1 carrot, diced
¼ c diced onion
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
1  quart vegetable or chicken stock, or water
cream, optional

Sauté the carrots, garlic and onion until tender.  Add the liquid and let warm through.  If you have just made the roasted tomatoes then you can add those once the liquid is warm ensuring that you pour in the oil from the pan. (Reserve a little to drizzle on the top for serving.)  If you are defrosting them from your frozen stock (He he) then put those in with the liquid and then let everything warm through together.   

Using an emulsion blender, or a regular blender, puree it all up until you get the consistency you like.  Now if you want a little decadence, before blending it up, lower the heat and stir in some cream and warm through. Although, I don't think it needs it.  I much prefer drizzling a  little of the roasting oil and adding a few chunks of cheese. Serve up a bowl with your sandwich and peer through your window and listen to the rustle of the leaves. 
Enjoy autumn.

APPLE BUTTER

This flavored butter is made simply by cutting apples into small pieces and stewing them with some honey and a squeeze of lemon. Slowly cook until they are super soft.   Let cool and work into a whole stick of room temperature, softened butter.  Put in an airtight container and store in fridge until ready to use.

   2 cups of chopped apples

 2 cups of chopped apples

Add apples to saucepan with 1 T honey, and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Add apples to saucepan with 1 T honey, and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Final Apple Butter using 3/4 of cooked apple mixture

Final Apple Butter using 3/4 of cooked apple mixture

 *Please note: If you are interested in buying Chistorra and Ahumado de Pria from Despaña order by phone  at 888.779.8617.  After Nov. 11, you will be able to order online at www.despanabrandfoods.com