Monday, November 13, 2006

There's no food like comfort food

Some of you have been asking about the wedding dates, and I realized that I haven't posted them here.

Villa in Italy rented for: May 19-26th (Saturday to Saturday)
Wedding Day: likely May 23
Reception Date: set at Sept 1st

Back to more important things. Like, for instance, cauliflower kugel. This recipe caught my eye, not so much for the vegetable involved (because of all the vegetables, let's face it, cauliflower's no Corvette), but because it was under the passover section of epicurious, and I got a little - uhm, curious. If there's one thing that the Jewish people are good at, it's comfort food. From spinach casserole to potato knishes, matzoh ball soup and noodle kugel, we've got all things guilt-ridden and fit for a cold winter covered. How then could such a tradditional dish be made healthy... light... gourmet? Hm, this required investigating.

It did take a long time to make, there're too many dishes to clean up, and yes, when I was done it looked like the cauliflower had exploded (been murdered?) in my kitchen - but I think it was worth it, as evidence by the almost-three helpings I had myself.

The original recipe can be found here. After reading through the comments and assessing my pantry, I made a few changes. First, most people agreed that the cauliflower itself needed a little pick-me-upper. In this case, I added two cloves of garlic and an indecent amount of salt (did I measure? Of course not).

Secondly, this recipe is begging for a breadcrumb/cheese topping. The original topping called for parsley, dill and almonds. Not wanting to destroy the lightness of the dish, but really wanting a crispy topping, I changed the topping to parsley, dill, 2 tbsp butter, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1/2 cup storebought breadcrumbs and 1/2 cup parmesean (grated). This change may have been a mistake. It's not that the topping was bad (trust me, with that much butter soaked breadcrumb for every bite, it was, as Rachael Ray would put it, "Yum-OH") - it was just a little bit oily. When I make this again, I'll lighten up the topping and cut the leek olive in half.

I also like things crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, so I cooked this at 425 for 30 minutes instead of 350.

Now I've had "mashed cauliflower" before, and I don't like it. It's not bad - I just find myself wanting mashed potatoes. It's too similar to the classic dish. Maybe it's because I'm not in the habit of eating lots of kugel, but I thought this dish really was a good, fiber filled substitute to the normal carbohydrate concoction. I liked the fresh herbs, though I thought they were a little too sharp. Needs something in there to blend the flavors more - maybe the almonds would have done that.

2 medium heads of cauliflower
2 large leeks
2 cloves garlic, chopped or minced
6 tbsp olive oil
6 tbsp matzo meal
3 large eggs
1 bunch parsley, chopped
1 bunch dill, chopped
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
2 tbsp butter
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Break apart the cauliflower and chop up the florets. Rinse and add to a steamer basket. Bring water to a boil and steam until tender (about 20 minutes)

2. Meanwhile, split the leeks down the center and rinse very well. They often have dirt in them, so it helps to pry back the layers while rinsing. Chop into 1/4 inch sections. Add 4 tbsp oil to a pan with garlic and leeks; cook until softened (10-15 minutes)

3. When the cauliflower and leek mixtures are cooked, drain the cauliflower and add it to the leek pan. Roughly mash the cauliflower with the back of a spoon.

4. While the vegetables are cooling, add matzo meal, 3 eggs, and a large pinch of the chopped parsley and dill each to a bowl. Salt and pepper liberally. Mix well and add to cooled vegetables.

5. Grease baking dish with olive oil. Add vegetable/egg mixture and spread evenly.

6. Mix bread crumbs, parmesean cheese, butter and remaining olive oil together. Layer this on top of the vegetables. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 425 degrees, or until the center has set. Let cool for 10 minutes before eating.

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