The Simple Art of Cooking: The Caul of the Flower

I can hardly resist the beautiful heads of cauliflower, peeking out of their cabbage-like leafy covering sitting regally at farmers markets. Cauliflower is truly a flower; instead of opening outward the flower forms a compact, edible mass of “florets.” When buying cauliflower the white florets should be dense and firmly packed together. A head that has begun to loosen and spread with bruises on the florets is old.

Whole, fresh cauliflower should keep 4 to 6 days in the refrigerator. If stored, cover loosely in plastic wrap in the vegetable crisper. Do not wash cauliflower before you store it but rinse it thoroughly in running water before cooking. You can keep cooked leftover cauliflower for 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator. If a full head of cauliflower is too much for one meal, trim the florets you won’t need and blanch them for a couple of minutes, then drain, refresh and store as above for a quick sauté or use on a vegetable platter.

I recently played with a soup, using the basic technique to sauté onion or leek or both, a cut-up potato for thickening and the vegetable, in this case, cauliflower florets. Sweat the vegetable for a few minutes then add stock and seasonings and cook until tender. Purée the soup until creamy (from the potato) and enjoy with homemade croutons.

Another fall favorite is Anna Teresa Callen’s White Cauliflower Risotto. Anna, a New York City cooking teacher, cookbook author and friend, passed away last June. Her memorable risotto is a dish I prepare each fall when local cauliflower is in season. “The recipe,” Anna would say, “is typical of the Abruzzi region where I grew up.”

CREAM OF CAULIFLOWER AND LEEK SOUP
Makes 6 servings

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 medium red onions, finely chopped
2 medium large leeks, thoroughly cleaned and thinly sliced
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed and separated into florets
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
7 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade or low sodium
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup heavy cream, optional
Fresh chives, thinly sliced for garnish
Croutons for serving, preferably homemade

1. Heat oil and melt butter in a large, 5 to 6 quart saucepan and when butter foam subsides add the prepared vegetables. Toss to mix to coat vegetables in the butter and oil then cover with a square of wax paper to sweat for about 7 minutes over low heat.

2. Remove and discard the wax paper and season vegetables with salt and pepper.
Pour on the stock and add the bay leaf. Stir to mix and cook at a brisk simmer, with cover ajar, for about 30 minutes until vegetables are tender. Remove and discard bay leaf and again taste the soup for salt and pepper. Purée the soup in batches in a blender or with a hand-held electric mixer directly in the pot. Can be done ahead to this point and refrigerated in a suitable container. If refrigerated, soup may thicken to a sauce-like consistency; you may add stock or water to thin slightly.

3.When ready to serve stir in cream, if using, and reheat to serve hot. Serve with thinly-chopped fresh chives and crouton garnish.

ANNA TERESA CALLEN’S WHITE RISOTTO
Risotto is a special kind of rice, which is cultivated in the Po Valley in northern Italy. The grains are oval and pearly in color. The rice is cooked until it gradually absorbs nearly three times its volume in liquid and swells as it soaks up the liquid. Risotto is cooked slowly and stirred constantly until wonderfully creamy, yet should have a bite at all times. The rice is available in specialty markets and some supermarkets.
Serves 4 to 6

4 cups coarsely chopped cauliflower florets, about 1/2 head
6 cups homemade chicken broth or low sodium canned broth
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, cut into small dice
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 to1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
*Truffle oil, optional

1. Cut off tough stem end of the cauliflower and remove the leaves. Pull away the large florets starting at the base and chop coarsely. Measure out 4 cups and put into a bowl of cold water to wash, then drain. Pat dry on paper towels and set aside.

2. Put 1 tablespoon butter and oil in a flameproof casserole over medium heat. When butter is melted, reduce heat to a simmer, add the onion, and cook slowly, covered, for a few minutes until tender. Do not allow the onion to color. If onion looks dry add a little broth and cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer. Can be done ahead to this point.

3. In a heavy saucepan, bring stock to the edge of a boil. Reduce to a simmer and keep warm.

4. Add cauliflower to the onion in the casserole, stir to mix with a wooden spoon and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup broth and let cook about 5 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally. Add rice, stir well to coat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Adjust heat to medium and ladle in 1/2 cup broth. Cook, stirring constantly until most of the broth has been absorbed. Keep adding broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until liquid is absorbed after each addition and the rice is creamy and tender and firm to the bite, about 22 to 25 minutes. Stir in remaining tablespoon butter and parmesan, then taste for salt and pepper. Adjust seasoning as necessary and serve immediately on warm plates. Serve extra freshly grated Parmesan at table.

*Note: When I completed the process of cooking the rice to the critical creamy stage, I added a tiny drizzle of truffle oil, a treasured gift from a friend.

Visit Silvia’s website at www.savoringthehamptons.com to read her blogs and more recipes.

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