– Southern breaded cauliflower casserole is made of sweet starchy goodness and unicorn giggles. –
I turned 36 recently. Did you hear that? 36. Sure, it’s not so bad – I can run for president now. My car insurance is insanely cheap. I can legally date boys half my age. (Um, ew.)
But still, 36. And the worst part? I didn’t realize I was 35. Seriously.
A few weeks before my birthday, someone asked me how old I would be on the big day. “37,” I replied. But something didn’t feel right. 37? Wait. How can that be? I don’t recall a birthday when I acknowledged being catapulted firmly into middle age, a birthday when I looked at my years on this planet and thought, wow, I’ve now been an adult as long as I was a child. I don’t remember noticing that I’ve been driving for twenty f**king years. I certainly don’t recall marveling at the random fact that if I’d had a kid at 18, that kid would also be a god damn adult now. Being me, those are all things I would likely think about on my 36th birthday. And I didn’t remember any of them.
I scrambled for my wallet, while the now-confused other half of the conversation looked on. I studied the year on my drivers license. The numbers flipped in my head, tugging against an epic 18-year (!!!) hiatus from basic arithmetic (yes, I found a loophole in the California University system that got me out of my college math requirement). I showed my license to the other person, and asked them to add up the years because clearly, I was too senile to do it.
“1977,” they read, their voice trailing off into an ellipsis of churning brain cells. “It’s now 2013. So that would make you… 36, I think. Yup, 36.”
36. What the hell happened to 35? I remember turning 35, and then at some point a few weeks later, my brain just flipped the extra bit and added another year onto my age. Somehow I had flung myself clean over 35 years old and splattered face-first into 36. I’ve been telling people I’m 36 since last summer, and I really, truly thought it was accurate. How did I skip over an entire year of my life?
36. Again. And I totally missed 35. How does that even happen?
Look, before you rolls your eyes and shake your cane at me, it’s not the fact that I’m a year older that bothers me. It’s the idea that I never had a 35th year to marvel on, to mull over, to kick around before turning 36. 35 is like the training wheels for 36, the buffer year you have to get used to the idea of being middle aged. But I never got my training wheels. Instead I booted myself out into rush-hour traffic when I was still figuring this whole gear-shifting thing.
So since I missed, you know, an entire year of my life, I thought I would do something nice for myself. I’m total a sucker for anything involving a rich, cheesy sauce, so I decided to start there (six months after finishing the macaroni and cheese book, I’m finally able to look a mornay sauce in the eye without yacking). When I was a kid, covering something in cheese was a sure-fire way to get me to eat it. When I was a child all those #$^&^#%$^&#$ years ago.
Sure, pasta is a great candidate for saucing, but sometimes you have to cut back on your starch intake. What’s a girl to do when she’s already eaten her weight in sympathy carbs this week? Turn to the next best starchy food: cauliflower.
Cauliflower is one of my favorite vegetables because once cooked, its texture mimics other beloved carby foods that we love but should probably cut back on: pasta and potatoes. In fact, I’d argue that you could substitute cooked cauliflower in 75% of pasta and potato dishes. Have you ever tried roasted cauliflower? Sautéed cauliflower with pesto? Buttered mashed cauliflower with parmesan cheese? Or how about a baked, cheesy, breaded cauliflower casserole? If you haven’t tried any of these, you’re totally missing out.
This dish is one of my favorites for many reasons, including its lusciously high cream and cheese content, but what I love most about this recipe is that it provides a huge helping of comforting richness while still getting in a mega-dose of veggie goodness. Sure, you could just as easily make this dish with macaroni, but cauliflower allows you the same indulgence without the inevitable food-coma that sets in after indulging. I’ve eaten a huge bowl of this stuff for lunch and then carried on with my day, with nary a nap in my mind’s eye.
My southern breaded cauliflower is thick and creamy, with a few added spices to keep things interesting. If you like you can leave out the nutmeg and cayenne, but they really do take the dish from standard to sensational. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, add 1/2 teaspoon of curry powder and a handful of chickpeas for a touch of Indian inspiration.
- 1 large head of cauliflower, , cut into florets
- 2 1/4 cups whole milk
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 whole shallot, diced
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 3/4 cup grated pecorino, divided
- 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoon melted butter
- Set the oven rack to the middle and preheat to 375°F (190°C). Pour 1/2 cup of water into the bottom of a pot outfitted with a vegetable steamer. Cover and set over medium heat. Once the water boils, drop florets into the steamer and cover again, steaming for 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Grease the bottom and sides of a small casserole dish and arrange the florets in a layer inside.
- Set a small pot over low heat and warm up the milk. Don't let it boil - turn off the heat once the surface starts steaming gently.
- Add unsalted butter to a small heavy saucepan and melt over low heat. Add shallot and cook until gently browned, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Whisk in flour, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Stir constantly and cook until the roux turns a good beige color and starts to smell cooked. Whisk in milk and heavy cream and cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce coats the back of your spoon. Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup of the pecorino. Pour over florets in casserole dish.
- In a small bowl combine bread crumbs, melted butter, and remaining pecorino. Stir well and sprinkle over the top of the florets. Bake for 20 minutes, until gently browned. Serve immediately. If you like, you can sprinkle the top with more pecorino and slide under the broiler for 1 minute to create a crisper topping.
This content was originally posted on FearlessFresh.com.