Sometimes I just plain crave vegetable goodness. I am an omnivore, generally, and probably something of an addict when it comes to eggs and dairy, but there is nothing to substitute for vegetal deliciousness, at times. Green, give me green! Or at least, things that were growing on and as plants.
For there are so many wonderful non-green vegetable delights, as well. So when veggies call, I answer. Who am I to refuse the marvelous joys of the garden?
Today’s foray: back in the land of cauliflower. I find it to be a remarkably fine ingredient, highly adaptable and versatile despite being relatively strong flavored, because its strength is balanced by an indefinable character that isn’t quite this or that, inherently, so much as a strong framework for other flavors. A great companion or substrate, if you will, for a great number of other kinds of flavors and textures.
Today, I wanted an umami-filled comfort food, and while cauliflower easily gives the texture I want, it is not itself inherently umami loaded. Mushrooms, ah, even the most humble among those are crammed with umami. The recipe, typical of my cooking, is not a recipe at all, but it takes advantage of the strengths of cauliflower and a few other modest yet potent ingredients to pull in the richness of umami as best I could imagine at the moment.
I suspect that in future iterations of this dish I will likely add a deeply green ingredient (spinach? broccoli? collards?) or two. Those are so fulfilling in a wholly different way, seeming rather cleansing to me, and refreshing and lightening and brightening. But that sort of character is not necessary to the pleasure of vegetable dishes in general, as sometimes (especially in fall and winter) what I want from vegetables is a sense of warmth and earthiness. This time, cruciferous and fungal and spiced earthiness, combined with dairy and egg intensity to create a rich, full, round sensory experience best served warm at a candlelit table, no matter what the hour.
Cauliflower, Cheese & “Squashroom” Casserole
Take one head of cauliflower and a pint of white or brown common mushrooms, raw, and pulse them all in the food processor until coarsely minced. Spoon the mixture into a large cake pan or casserole that’s been thoroughly greased (I used coconut oil), and sprinkle with coarsely ground salt and pepper, smoked paprika, brown mustard seeds, and freshly grated nutmeg. Top with about two or three cups of sliced zucchini (I used yellow) and a cup of shredded Parmesan cheese, drizzle with 1/4 cup melted brown butter, spritz again with oil to even out the coating, and bake at 250°F/121°C for an hour or until softened and melding flavors. While that’s baking, mix one 12-14 oz. tin of chopped or pureed unsalted tomatoes, an equal amount of plain whole-milk Greek yogurt, three large eggs, and 1-1/2 cups of shredded cheese (I used mozzarella, which I had in the freezer, but cheddar or any kind of mild-to-sharp melting cheese should do) together thoroughly. Stir and/or layer this with the softened vegetables and bake at 350°F/177°C for another half hour to 45 minutes or until the cheese is thickening and bubbling nicely. I added a coating of crushed corn flake crumbs with Italian seasoning over the top of this before baking to vary the texture just a little, and while it looked a little odd in the baking, it smelled great.
I can only assume that this concoction will pass muster (never mind mustard) when I serve it for lunch later this week after refrigerating it to set it up a bit and then reheating it for the meal, but given that it’s fairly close to the cauliflower pretend-mac-&-cheese I made before I am trusting in the ingredients to behave well together. If you are a reasonably trusting or adventurous spirit, jump in; if not, wait for the verdict later this week (I’ll update this then). For now, here’s the Phase I picture, and I feel pretty confident.