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a triumphant return, via cauliflower

March 16, 2010

Through careful, scholarly observation in my almost 27 years of existence, I’ve come to realize that just about everyone has some form of food-related fixation. As mentioned previously, my mother’s was anything that involved even a mere whiff of chocolate. My college roommate ate a least one bagel every day for 4 years straight. I know, in no uncertain terms, that any time I visit my father, the fridge will house a little cardboard round filled with neatly foil-wrapped wedges of Laughing Cow cheese.

The stuff of my longing is any and all creamy or cream-related treat, in all its unabashedly fatty glory. If it’s pillowy soft and yielding, chances are I will demolish it before you’ve even had a second taste. The psychology major in me worries this may indicate some type of Freudian regression back to an infant developmental stage, but if so, I never want to grow up. I’d much rather coo contentedly into my risotto, creme brulee, rice pudding, grits, and baba ganoush.

I am completely powerless to resist tiramisu if I see it on a dessert menu, and will scrape my plate, even when said tiramisu is subpar, which it frequently is. The most overwhelmingly delicious dessert I have ever had was last summer in Iceland, at a tiny dairy farm and restaurant where you could contentedly observe cows being milked through a glass wall, and then dine off of the rewards. I ordered the most unassuming-sounding dish: a bowl of homemade yogurt drowning in a healthy pour of homemade heavy cream, sprinkled with a handful of blueberries, picked on site. Friends, it was INSANE. I whisked the bowl out from under Chris’ quivering spoon, shoveled the contents into my mouth, and promptly ordered another, which I also refused to share. The proprietor, seeing that I meant business, dashed out to the barn and squeezed a lashing of milk directly from the source, and presented it to me, almost reverently, as an offering of goodwill and mutual dairy-loving respect.

Perhaps the most disturbing example of my irrational cream-related behavior occurred when I was a small child. I had a nasty, sneaky habit of licking the frosting off of cupcakes, and then leaving the de-robed cakes, naked and slimy, for unsuspecting poor souls to find. I’ve since learned of the great pleasure one can have when eating cupcakes in tandem with frosting, but only after many scoldings and much embarrassment on the part of my mother.

At this point, it should come as no surprise to any of you that while I love my vegetables, I love them even more when pureed into oblivion and sexed up with a little butter and cream. While mashed potatoes are the obvious choice, recently my cravings have ventured in a different direction and zeroed in on the frequently misunderstood knobbly white lump known as cauliflower.

I am sure that many of you are regularly seduced by the hearty chortle and bubbling energy of Lynne Rossetto Kasper, who hosts National Public Radio’s Saturday ode to all things delicious, The Splendid Table. She is a fixture on my ipod and in my kitchen, and boy, does this woman know her stuff. I am continually in awe of her encyclopedic knowledge. At work last week, deep in my Monday morning ritual of slow, methodical sips of coffee and catching up on NPR, I bolted in my chair, not from caffeine, but from Lynne’s in-passing description of her riff on Irish Colcannon, sort of a heartier version of mashed potatoes, laced with greens. She passed on potatoes and cabbage, the usual suspects, instead playing with cauliflower and kale, which she softened in a nice steam bath with rosemary and orange zest and then pureed with a drizzle of olive oil and knob of butter. Enchanted, and remembering a head of cauliflower patiently waiting in the refrigerator, I planned my next creamy conquest for Thursday eve, and oh boy howdy was it ever incredible. We were rendered silent, the only sound the dipping and clinking of spoons in the serving bowl, and the occasional contended sigh. I even learned to share this time.

Cauliflower Colcannon

Adapted from Lynne Rosetto Kasper

Think of this as mashed potato’s bohemian, flower child cousin. Light, fluffy, and fragrant, with a distinctive perfume from the rosemary, filling but not nap-inducing, it’s Spring in a bowl. For those of you who like to tinker, this recipe is infinitely adaptable, and insanely delicious.

1 large head of cauliflower, broken into florets
1 bunch of braising greens, stems removed and leaves coarsely chopped (Lynne used kale, and I used chard. Mustard greens would also work.)
1 onion, roughly chopped
6-7 garlic cloves, smashed, peeled, and roughly chopped
zest from 1 orange
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, chopped (this quantity gives the dish a decidedly strong hit of rosemary, which I love. You may want to start with slightly less and taste before adding more)
extra virgin olive oil, to taste
unsalted butter, to taste
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Fill a large pot with about 2 inches of water, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to keep a steady simmer, place a steamer basket in the bottom of the pot, and add to the basket the cauliflower, kale, onion, garlic, orange zest, and rosemary. You may think there is too much in the pot, but proceed! Cover the pot, and let the vegetables steam for about 12 minutes, or until the cauliflower is easily pierced with a knife. Carefully remove the steamer basket from the pot, and dump the steamed mess of vegetables into a large bowl.  Add to the bowl about 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter, or to taste. Using a masher or, alternatively, an immersion blender, mash or puree the vegetables until light, fluffy, and smooth. Season with salt and pepper, and dive in.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Daphne permalink
    March 16, 2010 1:35 pm

    Ah, Sarah – vegetables and creaminess – that defines you! I remember very well, visiting your house when you were no more than 3ish. As a pre-dinner snack I watched your Mom put some RAW broccoli florets in a dish and some sort of cheesy spread in a bowl next to it, both placed on your little kids table, and then watched you devour same, daintily picking up a floret, dipping it deeply into the cheese and munching away happily, dimples revealing your pleasure. At 3 years old!! All the other 3-year olds I knew would munch on cherrios, crackers, or maybe the occasional raisin from a tiny little box. But not our Sarah – raw broccoli and cheese spread! A foody from the start. Your cauliflower sounds scrumptous – and so YOU!

  2. March 16, 2010 5:18 pm

    You had me at cauliflower. But to throw kale and cream into the mix? Hot diggety! I’m all over this one.

  3. March 16, 2010 6:48 pm

    Very nice blog- My parents too keep laughing cow cheese AT ALL TIMES in their fridge.

  4. March 18, 2010 9:41 pm

    I’ve met Ms. Kasper (being from Minnesota and all) and she’s just as warm in person as on air. What a delight. Your photos are spectacular, and I don’t throw those words around lightly. I’m looking forward to visiting often :)

  5. March 18, 2010 9:43 pm

    And ‘Braise & Butter ‘ …… what two dangerously powerful words you’ve chosen for a community of foodies! Great idea.

  6. March 19, 2010 2:23 pm

    Hi, hello friends :)

    daphne-it was definitely my favorite food combo at the age of 3-i remember it well, actually!

    molly-yeah! hot diggety. it’s that kind of dish. let me know what you think.

    hello, ren! nice to see you here! i’m wondering if laughing cow is a baby boomer generation type thing..

    sprout-so glad to here Ms. K is as nice in person. that warms my heart. and thank you for the kind compliments on my photos….it’s definitely an area i want to improve on, but i’m so glad you enjoy them! re: “braise and butter”-HA! i chose two of my favorite things. which i am guessing are also the favorites of many a food lover. can’t go wrong with either :)

  7. March 19, 2010 4:36 pm

    found my way here via the blue hour… and can i just say, i love your writing. words, beautiful words.

  8. rachel permalink
    March 20, 2010 8:25 am

    I like everything about this post, the writing (especially the writing), the creamy pudding (we spend quite alot of time in switzerland and have meusli, blueberries, yogurt and thick thick cream from cows with bells in the next field which is heavenly) and this recipe.
    Delicious stuff – very glad to have met you

  9. March 23, 2010 2:33 pm

    jeanine-welcome! so glad you made your way here through one of my favorite sites, and thank you for your kind words.

    rachel-sounds like you’ve had a similar cream ephipany-it really is so stupendous fresh from the source. glad to meet you, too, and i’m so happy you enjoy the writing.

  10. May 29, 2010 1:59 am’s done it once more. Great post!

  11. Jen permalink
    January 21, 2011 11:53 am

    Thanks for posting this recipe! I’d bought the cauliflower and kale to fix this after hearing the description on The Splendid Table, but I knew I was leaving something out—the rosemary! Looking forward to cooking this up!

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