Roasted Cauliflower with Pancetta & Olives

Roasted Cauliflower with Pancetta & Olives

Occasionally, the New York Times “Cooking” newsletter has an attention-grabbing, hyperbolic headline that makes me stop reading my emails and go directly to their website. Such was the case earlier this week when the subject line read: “The Most Incredible Cauliflower.”
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Cauliflower Gratin

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Friday night, end of the week, and being tired generally lead to a quick and easy supper to linger over with a glass of wine. Since we had our share of meat, fish, and pasta this week, I looked through my cookbooks for something vegetable centric. My search eventually led me to Giuliano Hazan’s recipe for a cauliflower gratin in Every Night Italian.

Despite being vegetarian, however, this dish is definitely not “light,” given the amount of cheese and butter it calls for. Nevertheless, as a main course for a meatless supper, I guess its fat content, which, after all, contributes so much flavor, can be rationalized in one way or another.

The ingredient that initially attracted me to this recipe was the fresh sheep’s milk cheese from southern Italy known as primo sale, “first salt.” It was one of my aunt’s favorite cheeses to serve at a Saturday lunch when our family would return from its weekly excursion to the local Italian markets and salumerie. If you can’t find it, Hazan recommends substituting any white sheep’s milk cheese firm enough to slice. A Google search may help you find the primo sale locally.

Cauliflower Gratin with Tomato and Fresh Sheep’s Milk
Adapted from Giuliano Hazan’s Every Night Italian

1 large cauliflower (about 2 pounds)
1 small onion, chopped fine
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 (28-ounce) can of whole peeled Italian tomatoes, crushed. (You should have a total of 2 cups with some of the juice.)
3/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
6 ounces primo sale or other fresh sheep’s milk cheese firm enough to slice, sliced thin

Bring a pot of water large enough to accommodate the cauliflower to a boil over high heat.

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

Quarter the cauliflower, discarding the leaves, and add to the water when it has reached a boil. Do not add any salt. Cook until tender, about 20 minutes. When done, drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Cut the cauliflower into bite-size pieces and set aside.

Meanwhile, sauté the onions in 2 tablespoons of the butter in a 10 inch sauté pan over medium-low. When the onions turn a light gold, add the tomatoes and season with salt, pepper, and the optional ground cloves.

Cook the tomatoes for about 20 minutes or until they have thickened into a sauce.

Transfer the tomatoes to a large bowl and stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Gently fold in the cut cauliflower and taste again for seasoning. The cauliflower should be well coated with the sauce.

Cauliflower coated with sauce
Cauliflower coated with sauce

Place half of the sauced cauliflower in an 8 by 8 inch, flame-proof baking dish. Cover with half of the sliced primo sale. Cover with the rest of the cauliflower, and top with the remaining sliced cheese. Dot with the remaining tablespoon of butter.

Top layer of the gratin
Top layer of the gratin

Place the dish in the preheated oven and bake until the cheese melts, about 15 minutes. If not sufficiently browned, place under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes.

Right from the oven
Right from the oven

Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Wine Pairing: Nero d’Avola, Syrah

Cauliflower Sausage Gratin

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Cauliflower has always been one of my favorite vegetables, especially when simmered slowly in onions in tomato sauce, a dish my Sicilian mother would often serve during Lent. I had originally planned to make this dish last night, but with my brother and his wife coming over for dinner, I thought I needed something more substantial for a main course. I looked through my files and found the answer: a recipe from television’s Iron Chef Michael Symon came to mind: cauliflower sausage gratin.

Sausage plays a supporting role in this dish, adding a savory succulence to the mild nutlike flavors of the cauliflower. A sweet tomato sauce with Vidalia onions and a buttery Parmigiano-panko crust complete the cast.

Cauliflower Sausage Gratin Adapted from Michael Symon

Ingredients

Olive Oil
3/4 pound Fennel Italian Sausage (removed from the casings)
1 medium head Cauliflower (about 2 pounds; cut in to small florets)
Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper (to taste)
1 medium Onion (small diced)
4 Garlic cloves (minced)
28-ounce can crushed Italian tomatoes
1 cup Flat Leaf Parsley (chopped)
2/3 cup Panko Breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
Unsalted butter

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Place a large Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil along with the sausage. Cook, breaking up the sausage as you go, until browned, about 10 minutes. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add cauliflower to the pot and brown on both sides, about 2 to 3 minutes, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Depending on how much fat is left in the pan from browning the sausage, you may need to add some olive oil.

To the pan, add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook until the onions become soft and aromatic, about 5 minutes. When the onions are almost done, add the garlic, stirring to make sure the garlic does not brown.

Add the crushed tomatoes with their liquid, along with the sausage and any remaining juices. Bring the mixture up to a simmer and give it a taste, adding additional salt and pepper if necessary. Mix in the parsley, minus 1 tablespoon, and then pour the whole mixture in to a 13×9 baking dish.

In a small bowl, mix together the panko breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the top of the sausage and cauliflower, dot with butter, and bake until golden brown on top and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, let sit for 5 to 10 minutes, then serve.

Just from the oven
Just from the oven

Garnish with parsley.

Here’s a link to Michael Symon’s recipe from The Chew

Wine Pairing: Morellino di Scansano, Merlot