Cauliflower is a beautiful vegetable. The usual variety is snowy white and reminds me of the huge cumulus clouds that build over the New Mexico mountains during the summer and fall. Those clouds are very much a part of the art of Georgia O’Keeffe. Now there are cauliflower varieties of electric green and purple. They are also gorgeous and beg to be eaten. A creative cook can find many ways to prepare cauliflower. You can use it raw as a crudité along with a dip, or heaven forbid, ranch dressing, or in a garden salad. You can roast it in thick slabs, and then it tastes almost like steak. The Indians use it for delicious pakoras. There are other ways to prepare it, but the fallback in most home kitchens is a steamed head of cauliflower smothered in cheese sauce. Actually, I love that combination, but in my hands the cauliflower gets soggy in the steamer and the cheese sauce slides off the cauliflower into a pool on the plate. This is my effort to correct those shortcomings by roasting the cauliflower and using a thick sauce that clings to the head of cauliflower and browns quickly in the oven.
Snowy head of cauliflower
Roasted cauliflower topped with Cheddar cheese sauce, Swiss cheese, Parmesan, and panko
Just out of the oven
Three-cheese roasted cauliflower ready to serve
Roasted cauliflower and steak
Three-Cheese Roasted Cauliflower
- 1 large cauliflower, washed, trimmed of leaves and stem
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup milk
- ¼ pound sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- salt and pepper
- ½ cup grated Swiss cheese
- 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 3 tablespoons panko
- melted unsalted butter
- Place the cauliflower head in a well-buttered baking dish. Bake in the middle of a pre-heated oven at 350°F for about 30 minutes or until the cauliflower is easily pierced with a kitchen fork. Remove from the oven and cover with aluminum foil until you are ready to add the sauce.
- While the cauliflower is roasting, prepare the cheese sauce. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook for a minute or two to remove the raw flavor of the flour. Add the milk, and stir until the mixture is thickened. Stir in the Cheddar cheese and nutmeg. Stir until the cheese is completely melted and the sauce is smooth. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Spread the sauce over the roasted cauliflower, sprinkle with the Swiss cheese, Parmesan, and panko. Drizzle melted butter over the top.
- Return to the oven and increase the temperature to 400°F. Roast until the topping is lightly browned and bubbling, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately while still warm. I served it with sliced New York strip steak, but it will go with just about any protein you might like.
Breakfast strata is so easy to make and so impressive when it comes to the table puffy, golden, and as high as a soufflé. You need to start it the night before, but otherwise the ingredients and the method are very straightforward.
I made this for Carol’s recent visit to Santa Fe, but it is a perfect breakfast during the holidays. You won’t need much more than juice or fresh fruit and a beverage.
Pancetta and Sun-Dried Tomato Breakfast Strata
Ready to eat
Puffed and browned in the middle
Fresh from the oven
- 6 – 8 ½-inch slices of sourdough or French bread, crusts trimmed
- 6 tablespoons butter + more to grease the baking dish
- ½ cup dry-preserved sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in oil)
- boiling water
- 8 thin slices pancetta
- 1 large shallot, minced
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 6 eggs
- 2 cups cream
- salt and pepper
- 8 ounces Swiss cheese, grated
- Place the slices of bread on a baking sheet in a 200°F oven for 40 minutes, turning once. When cooled, butter one side of the bread and set aside.
- Place the sun-dried tomatoes in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Let stand for at least 30 minutes. Then drain, chop finely, and set aside until ready for assembly.
- In a small sauté pan over medium heat, lightly brown the slices of pancetta. Set aside.
- In the same sauté pan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the minced shallot and sauté until translucent. Add the wine and simmer until reduced to about half.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs until foamy. Stir in the cream and the shallot and wine mixture. Set aside until ready to assemble.
- Heavily butter an 8 x 8 inch baking pan. Line the bottom with a layer of buttered bread, buttered side up and trimming pieces to fit. Spread the slices of pancetta evenly across the bread. Top with the chopped sun-dried tomatoes. Pour one-half of the shallot, egg, and cream mixture over the top. Sprinkle on one-third of the grated cheese.
- Place another layer of bread on top. Pour over the remaining cream mixture and sprinkle with half of the remaining grated cheese. Reserve the rest of the cheese to sprinkle on top immediately before baking.
- Cover with plastic wrap and then a layer of aluminum foil. Weight down with a brick or other heavy object and refrigerate over night.
- About an hour and a half before you are ready to serve, remove from the refrigerator. Remove the brick and the covering and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top and place in the middle of the oven preheated to 325°F. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes until the center is puffed and brown. Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes and then serve. Four to eight servings, depending on appetite. Like quiche, it is delicious cold the next day.
Stuffed mushrooms are so retro. They were very popular in the 1960s, but you almost never see them now except at the Olive Garden. That is too bad, because they are easy to make and delicious to eat. They are perfect with cocktails and also make a good first course. The important step is to sauté the mushroom caps before you stuff them. Then you can let your imagination run wild and stuff them with whatever sounds appealing. We have a big bowl of pistachios that we have been snacking from for days, and even though pistachios are surprisingly low-cal, they are not when you eat them by the bowlful. Stuffing them into mushrooms seemed like a good dodge. That’s partly because I have no idea how many calories are in a stuffed mushroom.
- 8 large crimini mushrooms (the largest you can find not labeled as Portobellos)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 scallions, including green ends, chopped coarsely
- ¼ cup shelled pistachio nuts, chopped coarsely
- ¼ cup shredded Swiss cheese
- ¼ cup fresh bread crumbs
- ¼ cup sour cream
- 2 teaspoons Pernod
- salt and pepper
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- Remove the stems from the mushrooms and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat and add the mushroom caps. Sauté for about 3 minutes and turn over. Sauté the other side of the mushroom caps until cooked through. Remove to a plate, draining any liquid that has accumulated in the caps.
- Remove any woody part of the mushroom stems and chop finely. Return them to the sauté pan along with the chopped scallions. Add more olive oil if needed. Sauté until cooked through. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the pistachios, Swiss cheese, bread crumbs, sour cream, and Pernod. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
- With a small spoon, fill the mushroom caps with the pistachio mixture. Sprinkle the tops with the grated Parmesan cheese, and place under a hot broiler until the mushrooms are heated through and the tops have browned.
- Serve immediately.
Ready for the broiler
Ready to serve
Zucchini season, and the bounty keeps rolling in. We do not have any squash plants in our garden patch, but there is an abundance at the farmers market and from our neighbors. It is a common situation. Many folks this time of year are experiencing zucchini burn-out. Squash blossoms are delicious, but they require immediate attention to maintain their freshness. Sautéed squash begins to get a bit boring, and so the search of the web and a shelf of cookbooks begins. Deborah Madison, the Santa Fe-based vegetarian cookbook author has numerous suggestions in her collections. I especially recommend her Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (Broadway Books, New York) and The Savory Way (Broadway Books, New York) for all sorts of suggestions.
One of my favorite ways to cook zucchini is to grate it with a box grater, sauté it along with some scallions and sliced mushrooms in olive oil, drain any excess oil, stir in some sour cream and fresh lemon juice, and serve. So simple that no recipe is needed
Today, though, I am going to write about stuffed zucchini. The first time I ever had a stuffed squash was years ago at the home of a colleague from Greece who stuffed the tender fruits with feta, Cheddar cheese and bread crumbs. This version is a little more complicated but still not difficult.
Zucchini with flesh and seeds removed
Zucchini stuffed with sausage mixture
Sausage stuffing topped with tomato slices
Stuffed zucchini topped with grated Swiss cheese and dotted with butter
Out of the oven
Ready to eat
- 3 firm, medium zucchini (make certain they are not too big)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ yellow onion, chopped
- 4 medium crimini mushrooms, washed and chopped
- ½ pound bulk breakfast sausage (mild or hot, your preference)
- 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
- ½ cup almond flour (use all-purpose flour if you prefer)
- 1 egg, beaten slightly
- 3 medium tomatoes, sliced thinly (or enough to cover the zucchini)
- ½ pound Swiss cheese, grated
- cooking spray
- Slice the zucchini lengthwise. With a grapefruit spoon or sharp paring knife, hollow out the squash with about ¼ inch of a rim remaining. Try not to pierce the skin of the squash.
- In a medium sauté pan, heat the olive oil over a medium flame. Add the chopped onions and cook until they are translucent but not browned. Stir in the chopped mushrooms, and cook until they give up their liquid and the liquid has evaporated.
- Add the sausage, breaking it up with a cooking spoon so that it is completely crumbled.
- Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Transfer the mixture to a bowl, and while it is still warm, stir in the cream cheese so it is completely incorporated. Stir in the almond flour and egg. Set aside until you are ready to stuff the zucchini.
- Choose a baking pan that is large enough to hold all of the squash, or use two dishes, and spray generously with baking spray.
- Arrange the zucchini in the pan, and spray them lightly with baking spray.
- Fill the hollowed-out zucchini with the sausage mixture.
- Top with tomato slices seasoned with more salt and pepper, and cover with the grated Swiss cheese.
- Dot with butter, and bake in the middle of an oven pre-heated to 350° F for 30 minutes or until the cheese is completely melted and the zucchini is tender.
- Serve immediately.
Pasta shaped like great big shells (conchiglioni) has always intrigued me, because those shells are just begging to be stuffed with something. The little ones are good, too, because they hold sauce in a hot dish or dressing in a pasta salad. But the big ones can hold any kind of stuffing you can think of.
A box of conchiglioni caught my eye in the grocery aisle the other day, so I bought one without having a clear idea of what I wanted to make from them. Over several days I flipped through a mental catalog: shrimp, cheese, ham, chicken, ground beef. Nothing seemed exactly right, and then I remembered a can of minced clams that had been sitting in the pantry just waiting for me to make one of my favorites, pasta with clams and white sauce.
Stuffed shells ready for sauce
That seemed like a good beginning, but I was trying to think of something a little different. At last I came up with a plan and decided to make a stuffing of clams, mushrooms, and spinach.
Ready for the oven
- 12 giant conchiglioni
- 3 quarts salted water
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 bunch fresh spinach, washed, trimmed of stems, and chopped coarsely
- 1 pound crimini mushrooms, washed and sliced
- 6.5 ounces canned minced clams, drained (Reserve clam juice)
- ½ teaspoon Pernod
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- ½ cup whipping cream
- ¾ cup grated Swiss cheese
- ½ cupgrated Parmesan cheese
- butter for dotting the top of the casserole
- Boil the pasta shells in the boiling salted water until al dente, about 12 to 15 minutes. Drain and set aside for stuffing.
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Then add the chopped spinach and heat, covered, until wilted.
- Add the mushrooms and continue to sauté until the mushrooms are cooked through.
- Then add the clams, Pernod, salt and pepper. Be careful with the Pernod, as too much can be overwhelming. Reduce the heat to low until ready for stuffing.
- In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and then add the flour. Stir until thoroughly mixed and cook for 5 minutes to remove the raw taste of the flour. Stir in the clam juice and enough cream to make a thick sauce. Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper. Add water if the sauce is too thick.
- Arrange the cooked pasta shells in a well-buttered baking dish.
- Divide the stuffing evenly among the pasta shells. Then top with the sauce, sprinkle with Swiss and Parmesan cheeses. Dot with butter, and place in the middle of an oven pre-heated to 350°F. Bake for 50 minutes or until the top of the casserole is well-browned. Remove from the oven, let rest for 5 minutes, then serve.
Ready to serve
Closeup view of the finished dish
Our ovens recently went on the blink, and we had to do without baking for over two weeks while the repairman ordered parts. We made it through the crisis – with some withdrawal symptoms – and our ovens were finally restored to working order. To celebrate, I decided to make a couple of quiches using some shrimp and fresh Spring asparagus from the grocery store. I made the quiches only to discover that I had left out the asparagus. My fall-back plan was to use the asparagus the next night in something else. The plan wound up to be an exercise in cleaning out the refrigerator. I came up with what is not really a quiche, so I called it a ricotta pie. Regardless of the name, it turned out to be a good use for the asparagus.
- 1 Cup all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1/3 Cup vegetable shortening
- 2 2/3 Tablespoons (8 teaspoons) ice water
- Combine the flour and salt in a medium bowl
- Add the shortening and cut it into the flour mixture with a pastry blender until it resembles coarse corn meal
- Make a well in the center of the mixture and pour in the water, mixing with a table fork until the mixture comes together in a ball.
- Knead gently for just a few seconds, shape into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes
- 16 ounces low-fat ricotta
- 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 Tablespoon Pernod
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon finely ground white pepper
- 1 pound fresh asparagus
- 6 crimini mushrooms
- 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 ounces Swiss cheese, shredded
- 3 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced
- 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, freshly and finely grated
- In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, Pernod, salt, and pepper until smooth and well blended. Set aside.
- Wash the asparagus, trim the woody ends (saving them for stock), and cut into 1-inch pieces. Set aside.
- Clean and slice the mushrooms. Sauté them in olive oil until they have given up their liquid. Drain and set aside.
Just out of the oven
- Remove the chilled pie crust dough from the refrigerator and roll it into a circle large enough to line a 9 inch pie pan with enough to crimp the top edge.
- Ladle half of the ricotta mixture into the bottom of the prepared pie shell.
- Arrange the asparagus pieces over the filling. Then add the mushrooms, Swiss cheese, and prosciutto in layers.
- Cover with the remaining ricotta mixture and sprinkle with the grated Parmesan cheese.
- Bake in the middle of an oven pre-heated to 425° for 10 minutes. Then lower the oven temperature to 350° for an additional 60 minutes. Turn the baking pie front to back in the oven about half way through the baking. Watch carefully toward the end of baking and remove from the oven if the pie becomes too brown.
- Place the finished pie on a cooling rack for 5 minutes. Then slice into 6 or 8 pieces. Serve while still warm.
Ready to eat