Thursday, November 7, 2013

Comforting Cauliflower

For some reason, this time of year makes me crave cauliflower. I noticed that the last posting I did on cauliflower was early fall in 2012. Maybe the cold weather makes me want comfort foods. Cauliflower has all the ingredients of a good comfort food: it's bland, nearly colorless (I have not tried the purple, green, or yellow varieties and probably won't), and pairs well with other foods. Its meaty texture (if not overcooked) allows it to shine as a satisfying main course.

Last year, I gave readers the fastest recipe, one that I use often. This time I'm going to give you the most comforting recipe, cauliflower and cheese sauce. To my mind, roasting the vegetable first rather than boiling or steaming it gives it a superior texture. Break the head up into florets, toss them with a Tbsp. of olive oil, and bake at 425 for 20-30 minutes, turning once or twice. The florets should be lightly browned and tender. Then pour them into a shallow casserole or pan, and make a cream sauce using 2 Tbsp. butter, 2 Tbsp. flour, a cup of milk, and salt and pepper to taste. (Melt the butter, stir in the flour, let cook a minute, then remove from the heat and gradually beat in the milk. Return to the heat and stir until thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste.) I usually add a bit of mustard and paprika as well.

After the cream sauce has thickened, add about 3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Stir until the cheese melts, then pour this sauce evenly over the cauliflower. Reduce the oven temperature to 400. Sprinkle 1/4 panko bread crumbs over the top and and bake until bubbly and hot. If the crumbs aren't browned, run them under a broiler for a few minutes. Be careful not to burn them, but toasting them lightly adds a nice crunch.

Serve either as a main course or as a side dish. Baking the sauce with the vegetable and crumbs adds a nice toasted cheese taste and texture to the dish, as well a satisfying crunch. I've never been a huge mac and cheese fan, but I think the reason is because I had this dish instead.

By the way, if you don't have the ingredients for cheese sauce, you can always substitute Stouffer's welsh rarebit, but you may want to thin it a bit with milk.

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