The Mind of a Chef

Call me a creature of habit, but it seems that about once a month I make a frittata of some sort.  It’s usually on the weekend, but more important, it is the reassurance of knowing I’ve got my buddy in the fridge for back up during the week.

One of the most versatile of dishes ever, the frittata is equally welcome hot, warm, room temperature, and even cold.  Designed for portability, a wedge makes a convenient hand-held lunch on the run, or a simple dinner with salad.  Little mouth-sized portions make flavorful bites with drinks.

So, it’s no surprise that my mind tends to wander in terms of would that work in a frittata?  With a little manipulation, the answer is usually yes.  Here’s my latest frittata creation, and the answer is yes, absolutely, to all of the above mentioned applications.

This all began when a friend brought over beautiful sprigs of soft sage from their garden. I set them aside to dry, knowing they would come in handy very soon. When I spotted a small pristine head of cauliflower at the farmers’ market, I paused over it quizzically. My mind slipped into frittata mode.  With sage and what else?

Let’s face it, much like a white canvas, cauliflower needs help. My mind kept going… there were a couple types of blue cheese rumbling in the cheese bin and I probably had a little ham in the freezer.

Back at home I sliced the cauliflower and broke it into smaller pieces.  The idea here is to give the cauliflower more flat surfaces to brown and intensify flavor. The cauliflower was briefly blanched in boiling water,   quickly cooled to stop the cooking, and well drained—to avoid any mushy/sogginess later.

When I was ready to prepare the frittata it was a mere matter of browning onion and cauliflower, then adding the sage and ham. A combination of bleu cheese and creamy gorgonzola was scattered over the cauliflower and ham for a brief melt into the action below.

The eggs, milk, and seasoning were poured over the cauliflower mixture and allowed to set up in the pan and lock everything in place.  A quick run under the broiler puffs the frittata and browns the top. This is one serious frittata, she grins.

Cauliflower-Ham Frittata with Sage-Gorgonzola Cheese

Ingredients
1 small head cauliflower, ½” slices, broken in florets and blanched @ 3 minutes, drained
1 tablespoon combination evoo and butter
½ onion, chop
¾ teaspoon dried sage, crumble
½ Anaheim pepper, seed and chop
¼ lb. smoked ham, ¾ cup cubes
½ cup combo gorgonzola and bleu cheese, in pieces
6 eggs
¼ cup milk
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Directions

  1. Heat 9” or 10” oven-proof skillet over medium heat with olive oil and butter. Sauté the onion until soft, add the sage and continue until onion begins to color.
  2. Add the cauliflower and continue cooking, gently tossing until it begins to brown.  Add the Anaheim pepper and the ham, and cook a couple of minutes.
  3. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, add the milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg and pour over the eggs.
  5. Tilt the pan, loosen the eggs from the bottom with a spatula and let eggs run into the bottom of the pan.  Continue to turn the pan and allow the eggs to flow to bottom of the pan and the egg mixture begins to set.
  6. Run the frittata under the broiler until it begins to puff and the top begins to brown in places. Release frittata with from pan with a spatula and slide onto a plate. Cut into portions and serve hot or room temperature.  Serves 6.
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The Next Generation Potato Salad

While prowling the farmers’ market recently, one glance at a startling yellow cauliflower told me  I must have one. Its dappled pale buttercup color was so surreal it looked hand painted, and I instantly knew what would become of it.

For some time now, I have been tinkering with the idea of a cauliflower salad reminiscent of a Danish-style potato salad I used to make for picnics and barbecues. It was particularly popular for catering because it also included a few green peas, a little red pepper for color, and small cubes of cheese.

Later in the day, I ended up steaming the cauliflower florets for 3 minutes in my  Instant Pot pressure cooker, and then used the quick release to avoid overcooking. Out of the pot, I drizzled the hot cauliflower with a small amount of Dijon vinaigrette/marinade; just enough for the flavors to absorb as it cooled down.

Meanwhile, additional vegetables and a hard cooked egg were quickly prepped. When all ingredients were combined with the vinaigrette flavored mayonnaise I was glad to note that it required far less binder than a typical potato salad. 
A quick taste test revealed a light, well-flavored, refreshing salad. It was not a dreary, heavy, non-descript mound lacking any food value. This was most definitely worthy of becoming the next generation potato salad.

In no time, the gorgeous salad was in the fridge getting a good chill on—ready and waiting for grilled burgers later.

Cauliflower Picnic Salad

Ingredients
1 small head yellow cauliflower, broken in large bite sized florets

Vinaigrette/Marinade
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons chive or other light vinegar
Salt and lots of freshly ground pepper
½ teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
2 ½ tablespoon olive oil

½ cup frozen peas, partially defrosted
1 stalk celery, chop
2 green onions, mince
¼ cup red pepper, mince
2 tablespoon parsley, chop
¼ cup smoked Gouda cheese, small cubes
1 hard cooked egg, coarsely mashed
2 tablespoons mayonnaise

Directions

  1. Steam the florets using your favorite method. Or, using the Instant Pot pressure cooker, line bamboo steamer baskets with cauliflower leaves and divide the cauliflower evenly. Stack them, cover top with foil, and place on trivet. Add 1 cup water to the cooker and steam for 3 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile prepare vinaigrette.  Whisk the mustard and vinegar with salt, pepper and thyme to combine.  Slowly whisk in the olive oil until emulsified and thick.
  3. When steaming is complete, use quick release.  Remove cauliflower from steamer, place in salad bowl add peas, and toss with 1-2 tablespoons of vinaigrette, just enough to absorb into cauliflower.  Let cool, about 20 minutes.
  4. When cauliflower is cool, add celery, onions, red pepper, parsley, Gouda, and egg.
  5. Add 2-3 teaspoons marinade to mayonnaise to thin slightly and pour over the cauliflower mixture. Toss to coat well and chill 1 to 2 hours.  Serves 4 or more.

Adult Mac ‘n Cheese

I’ve long been enchanted by the idea of cauliflower and cheese – such a lovely duo; they seem to be made for each other:  cauliflower’s earthy nuttiness mingling with the rich creaminess of cheese… despite this prolonged infatuation it has simply not been enough to move me to any great culinary action.

Recently, though, I came across an idea for penne combined with cauliflower and cheese that set me on fire!  How perfect!  An adult mac-and-cheese with just enough vegetable thrown in to rate full meal status.Penne and Cauliflower

But was this workable in my tiny kitchen?  Too ambitious?  Well, it was certainly worth an attempt, but I had better think about it…

grater

Two-sided grater

The following items would be needed for prep and cooking

  • 1 quart pan
  • Chef’s knife, small whisk and spatula
  • 3-quart prep bowl with microwaveable steamer/strainer insert
  • Small two-sided grater
  • 2 cup measure, 1 utility bowl
  • 6-cup baking dish for heating and storage

Consider 4 main steps in the prep phase

  1. Prepare the cheese sauce. It can be done well ahead, if time permits.
  2. Boil the pasta.  Cook the pasta, if space permits and add the cauliflower about 4 minutes before the pasta is al dente.  If not cook the pasta, drain, rinse, and hold.
  3. Steam the cauliflower. If not boiling, steam the cauliflower in microwaveable bowl, cover and cook for about 2 minutes, until barely tender.
  4. Assemble the dish. Add the cheese sauce to the pasta and cauliflower; stir gently to evenly distribute.  Sprinkle breadcrumbs on top.  Bake, or if preparing ahead, cover and chill.

Yes, I could pull this off.  I just had to remember to work my plan, clean up as I go along, and rinse/ re-use my prep and cookware, or this could potentially turn into a real mess…

And I wasn’t disappointed:  creamy, cheesy, with a slight bite from the cauliflower.  Penne, Caul and SaladThe crisp panko topping was the perfect foil with its extra crunch factor.  A simple green salad was all that was necessary to create a totally soul-satisfying meal.

Baked Penne with Cauliflower and Cheese

Inspired by Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes: Recipes from a Modern Kitchen Garden by Jeanne Kelley

Ingredients
1 ½ cups whole wheat penne
3 cups cauliflower, sliced and broken up
Cheese Sauce
2 tbsp butter
1 shallot, minced
2 Tbsp flour
1 ½ cups milk
½ cup smoked Gouda cheese, grated
½ cup cheddar cheese, grated
2 tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp prepared mustard
1 bay leaf
Breadcrumb Topping
1 tbsp butter
½ cup panko or traditional bread crumbs
2 tbsp Parmesan Cheese
Directions

  1. Prepare the Cheese Sauce: In 1 quart pan, melt the butter, add the shallots and cook 2 minutes to soften.  Add the flour and cook 1 minute, whisk in the milk until there are no lumps.  Add the cheese, stirring to melt.  Add the salt, peppers, nutmeg, mustard and bay leaf.  Simmer briefly to blend flavors.  Set aside, can be made ahead.
  2. Bring pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and simmer until al dente, approximately 10 minutes. If adding the cauliflower, add it about 4 minutes before the pasta is cooked.  Drain and rinse to stop the cooking process.  The cauliflower can be boiled separately for 4 minutes or microwaved for about 2 minutes.
  3. Combine the pasta, cauliflower and the sauce and stir gently to distribute evenly. Spread it in buttered 6-cup baking dish.  For bread crumbs:  Melt the butter, add the panko and the Parmesan.  Sprinkle evenly over the pasta mixture.
  4. Bake at the 350 degrees for approximately 25 minutes, until bubbly and browned on top. Yield: 4 servings.