I know I've posted about cooking cauliflower — chou-fleur in French — on previous occasions. But this is the season, so here I go again.
I was at SuperU in Saint-Aignan the other day, and in the produce department there was a huge pile of just about the most beautiful choux-fleurs I have ever seen. Frais de chez frais, comme on dit. The price was pretty low at 1.20 € per head.
When I brought it home, Walt said, now what are we going to with that. He always says I buy too much food at the grocery store — and he's right, I admit it. But I can't resist picture-perfect vegetables, when I know they are going to taste so good.
I should say we are in a feast period right now. Since Walt came back less than two weeks ago, he made a big batch of turkey-sausage chili using fresh tomatoes from our ripening boxes and dried pinto-type beans that we grew in our garden over the summer.
Then he made a pan of cornbread to go with it for its second appearance. And he made pumpkin muffins — twice. In the planning stages, we have choucroute garnie — sauerkraut with smoked meats — and we have bought everything for that, including a smoked chicken. And then later this week, we'll roast a leg of lamb. Gigot d'agneau is what we always eat on American Thanksgiving, which, as you probably know, comes this Thursday.
Now, just yesterday a friend invited us for lunch next Saturday. She's going to cook a goose. I don't know how many people she might be inviting. We have been planning to cook a goose for Christmas this year.
Anyway, all that notwithstanding — I hope we can withstand the calories, and I took a long brisk walk with the dog this morning to try to stay ahead of the game — I needed to cook that beautiful fresh cauliflower while it still was... you know what I mean.
I could tell the chou-fleur was fresh because the leaves that envelope the head were so pretty — a nice pale green, and unblemished. I've always heard or read that you can eat those leaves, so this time I cut them off, chopped them up, thick white ribs and all, with a big knife, and cooked them in a skillet with some butter, white wine, and salt and pepper.
While those were cooking, I cut up the cauliflower into big florets, and I chopped an onion. Then I sauteed the onion with a package of lardons (smoked bacon chunks) and added the cooked chou-fleur leaves to that. It made a nice stirfry. Separately, I blanched the cauliflower florets in a big pot of boiling water, with salt, just for three minutes, and then let them cool in a bowl so the residual heat would keep tenderizing them. Don't cook them long or they will develop that smell we know so well. At that point, they are ruined.
I put the stirfried vegetables and bacon in the bottom of a big baking dish and arranged the partially cooked bouquets de chou-fleur on top of it. Then it was time to make a sauce béchamel — three tablespoons of butter melted in the pan the vegetables had cooked in, with three tablespoons of flour added. Stirred until it becomes a thick paste. And some milk and some of the cauliflower blanching liquid added alternately and stirred in until it made a nice thick sauce. Add the liquids slowly, half a cup at a time, and stir to smooth out the sauce.
Into that some cheese: I had half a pound of mozzarella and some so-called Swiss cheeses, which were actually French Comté and Emmenthaler. Jack, cheddar, etc., would be good. Cut them into little cubes and melt them into the sauce. Pour the sauce over the cauliflower.
Sprinkle the top with more grated Swiss cheese. Bake at 350ºF until the top starts to brown and the sauce is bubbling in the baking dish. Let cool slightly and eat. 'Tis the season.