11 March 2008

A cauliflower "crumble"

Okay, I'm going to write about cauliflower and the lunch I made yesterday. Posting pictures of food is always risky. Some people will go: Ugh, cauliflower. It's ugly and it stinks. And then it is never easy to be sure your pictures of food are appetizing, even if you are taking pictures of foods you know nearly everyone enjoys. Not to mention chou-fleur.

Fresh cauliflower

Cauliflower. It must be the season, because SuperU had them on special Saturday for €0.75 — seventy-five centimes d'euro. Earlier, cauliflower had been varying in price from €1.25 to €2.00 a head. One day back in February, though, SuperU did have them for one euro apiece or €1.60 if you bought two. I remember, because I bought two, but the cashier rang them up wrong. So I had to go to the customer service desk and ask for a refund. It was no problem.

Cauliflower "shaved" and chopped into a crumble

Blanche the cauliflower crumbs briefly in boiling salted water
before adding them to the cheese sauce.

I just looked at the big Larousse Gastronomique food and recipe encyclopedia and it confirms the season. France produces enough choux-fleurs to satisfy domestic demand year-round, it says, but March is when they are most plentiful. A lot of cauliflower is grown in Brittany and in southeastern France. I bet French people eat a lot more of it per capita than Americans do.

(The little bit of searching on the Internet I just did suggests that American consume between 2 and 2½ lbs. (1 kg) of cauliflower a year. Per capita French consumption is something like 3.5 kg (7¾ lbs.) per year, and that figure has dropped over the past 10 years as people have started eating more broccoli and romanesco. I'm not sure if romanesco is available in the U.S.)

Pasta in a cheese sauce (sauce Mornay)
with the crumbled chou-fleur

The recipe I had in mind when I saw cauliflower on sale was the one I mentioned before and that I had in a restaurant in Half Moon Bay years ago. It was "crumbled" cauliflower in a light cheese sauce served over pasta. It was, obviously, memorable — a little bit crunchy in the sauce, which was rich and smooth, and good with the pasta.

Grated Mimolette cheese from Holland

I had very high expectations because my memory was so vivid, and I had no recipe. But never let that stop you when you want something good to eat, some comfort food on a blustery, chilly, gray, rainy March day.

Three cheeses — Mimolette from Holland; a heart-shaped
Neufchâtel from Normandy; and a disk of aged goat cheese
made by my neighbors on the other side of the vineyard

I think I used the wrong cheese for the sauce. I picked Mimolette cheese because it is about the only French cheese that has the orange-yellow color that I remembered from the restaurant's sauce. But in fact I got Dutch Mimolette cheese, and I know that some French gourmets systematically turn up their noses when cheeses from Holland are brought out. Maybe French-made Mimolette would have been better.

The problem with the cheese was that it didn't melt smoothly into the sauce. That was the effect I wanted, and instead I got clumps of molten cheese. It tasted great, but it didn't make the sauce smooth and velvety the way I wanted it. Next time I'll probably use French Cantal cheese, which, while white and not yellow, has the virtue of melting smoothly into a thick liquid, not an elastic, stringy clump.

I like to cook cauliflower in a lot of boiling water —
but not for long, or it starts to smell and taste too strong

Also, I had a lot of cauliflower left over once I had shaved off the tops of the florets and chopped the tender stems to make my crumble of chou-fleur to put in the sauce. But that was all right — I just cooked the rest of it and served it with the pasta and sauce. I actually needed a little more sauce for the big pieces of cauliflower. Next time I'll make more.

One thing that made the dish even better was a good sprinkle of hot paprika over the top at the table. Another option would be to put some hot red pepper flakes into the sauce as it cooks.

And when we have the leftovers, I will add a layer of mimolette cheese over the pasta and cauliflower pieces and put the whole thing into a hot oven to make a gratin. It will be a variation on cauliflower au gratin, for which you normally make a much thicker cheese sauce using comté or gruyère cheese but no pasta.

Pasta with cauliflower in a cheese sauce

There aren't that many ways to serve and eat cauliflower, I guess. Steamed or boiled cauliflower with butter, lemon-butter, or a cheese or cream sauce. Polish-style cauliflower is served with buttered bread crumbs, chopped parsely, and finely chopped hard-boiled egg sprinkled over it. And there is cream of cauliflower soup, of course. Or a soufflé.

Don't be afraid to undercook cauliflower because, after all, it is good to eat raw — especially with a good home-made mayonnaise dipping sauce. It's also good steamed and dressed with a vinaigrette dressing. Frozen cauliflower is good too, if you don't cook it too much.

I suppose I'd better take back what I just said about there not being very many ways to serve cauliflower. Peter Hertzmann has a lot of good cauliflower recipes on his A La Carte French-cooking site. And I was just looking at one of Madhur Jaffrey's books — World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking — where there are several recipes using typical Indian spices. Maybe an curried dish will be a good use for the second head of 75-cent cauliflower I bought.


  1. The best cauliflower recipe is indeed a south Asian one - Aloo Gobi (which just means Potato Cauliflower). I'll send you my recipe if you like. For an amusing demonstration of making aloo gobi, watch the extras on the 'Bend it like Beckham' DVD, where the director makes the dish, with her mum in the background, commenting the way mum's do !


  2. I'm not sure how much cauliflower runs in our grocery- I'll check. I've always liked cauliflower with a simple cheese sauce.

    I think I've had it with bacon and cheese before when I was on the Atkin's diet. It was very good that way.

    Thanks for the photos of the different cheeses, I'm still learning about French cheeses and there are a lot of them for sure.

  3. u can also roast cauliflower in a hot oven....just slice the heads (no need to have florets....just slices) sprinkle with olive oil & salt & roast ....gets golden & very sweet
    I also like it with indian spices.....sauteed in skillet sprinkled with oil & spices

    makes a good soup too (eaten cold it is like vichysoisse) cooked in chix stock & some onions & a bit of butter then zapped with a stick blender

  4. I love to read about and see pictures of food, especially yours and Walt's.

    Roasting cauliflower gives a nice change in color, texture, and flavor. Add some leaves (needles, really) of rosemary, red onions, and garlic cloves, and toss all with olive oil before baking in a hot oven.

    A friend once served a whole steamed cauliflower, with cheese sauce dripping down the sides, on a cake stand. Quite dramatic, for cauliflower.

  5. We love cauliflower. This week's chou-fleur cost $2 for an organic 3-pounder. I usually use a recipe for cauliflower gratin that I got from the Chocolate and Zucchini web site, but sometimes we have what my cookbook calls "Greek" cauliflower, steamed and then tossed with lemon, olive oil, and crumbs.

    You can buy romanesco fairly easily here (Whole Foods carries it), although it isn't common. When our kids were young, they called it "Chernobyl broccoli" because they figured it had to be a mutant!

  6. Like your posts, I find the comments so enjoyable. Everybody knows something about gardening. Everybody knows something about your plat-du-jour. I never had a garden and I'm just a very ordinary cook. I couldn't add one thing to what you offer.

    Your food photos tempt me sometimes to try the recipe, or to do a dish a bit more special than my usually simple daily fare. For this, and for your sunny flowers, I thank you. You're an inspiration!

  7. Another vote for roasting sliced cauliflower! I just slice the whole head in slices about half-inch thick, brush it with olive oil and roast it all on a flat sheet in a very hot oven until it browns. It's delicious.

    There's a recipe for pasta with sauteed cauliflower and ricotta salata I've always meant to try, but never had both ingredients in the house at the same time. I believe it's in the Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook. If I were home, I'd send it to you.

  8. Susan and Simon, I would love to have the Aloo Gobi recipe. Please do send it. BTW, I had just figured out that the hawk or falcon I saw was a Kestrel. And the heron was surely a heron...

    Melinda and Louise, thanks for the ideas for roasting cauliflower. I've never tried that but I will. This morning I blanched my second chou-fleur and put it in the freezer, so it's too late for that one. I think I'll try a curry.

    Evelyn, I often make my gratin de choux-fleurs with smoked bacon (lardons). But it also has a cheese sauce with a flour base, so the Atkins people wouldn't like that.

    Chrissou, I didn't weigh my cauliflowers since they were sold by the head and not by weight. But they were pretty hefty. I'm trying to remember if I ever saw romanesco when I still lived in California... five years ago. Can't remember. But yes, it looks radioactive quelque part.

    Claudia, cook some cauliflower or broccoli and enjoy it!

  9. Ken,
    Apparently there's a French version of Mimolette...check out your fellow expat food blogger here:

  10. Hi Isabella, I know that there is a French mimolette cheese. I just happened to see the Dutch version at SuperU the other day and picked it up. We buy the French mimolette from the cheese vendor at the farmers' market in Saint-Aignan sometimes. The aged, hard dry version is the best. Mimolette also known as Vieux Hollande is made in Brittany and in the North (on the Belgian border).

    Chris at ST, when you do get home, maybe you can send me the Chez Panisse recipe. I'll try to remember and to remind you. Meanwhile, get over that cold and enjoy Paris, despite the weather (which is bound to improve).

  11. i have a recipe like this somewhere, i'll dig it out for you someday (!), that has uses tubetti or elbow mac, and has braised endives in the bottom of the casserole. it is pure heaven. i think the cheese is gruyere. and there might be a touch of nutmeg in there.

  12. This all looks delicious to me -- everyone in my family seems to enjoy cauliflower, although the lingering odor is a bit annoying.

  13. Bonjour, Ken. Have you read about this latest ban. (I hope you and CHM are having a great time in Paris!)

    This "mite" be the end of mimolette in the U.S.


What's on your mind? Qu'avez-vous à me dire ?