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Cauliflower Cake

Cauliflower Cake

 A couple of years ago, I was visiting a friend in London and rummaging through her cookbooks when I found this recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi. I wanted to make it as soon as I saw it, especially after eating at one of his restaurants there. But it’s like the book that’s sitting on the shelf you never read; or the bolt of fabric in the closet you never get around to sewing into a dress. I forgot about it. The recipe didn’t appear in any of his cookbooks published for the U.S. market. Until now, that is, when I saw it in “Plenty More” – his latest cookbook and one that was gifted to me this week by my niece Keri.  My interest in making this delightful recipe was renewed.

Aside from the visual appeal, it tastes terrific, somewhat like a frittata, but with a little more heft from the cup of flour and baking powder in the recipe. It’s got tons of flavor from the turmeric, rosemary and basil too, so don’t leave those out. I would however, add another egg or two next time I make it, (or use less of the vegetable). As you can see from the photo below, I didn’t use cauliflower, but instead used broccoli romano, or broccoli romanesco – my favorite vegetable,  another gift I received this week – this time from my son.. It tastes very similar to cauliflower, but you can’t top it for distinct appearance. I’ve posted recipes using it before, so if you’re interested, go to the white search box at the top of the blog and type in the words “broccoli romano.” I can see making this with lots of other vegetables too, including with artichoke hearts – which I’m planning to try next week.  Stay tuned.
The first step is to carefully separate the florets and bring them to a boil for about five minutes, then drain.
 Line a springform pan with parchment paper, then smear with butter and sesame seeds. The recipe calls for nigella seeds, but I couldn’t find them and used black and white sesame seeds instead.
 The batter is on the thick side, so be careful not to break up the florets when mixing everything together. Next time, I plan to use eight or nine eggs instead of the seven called for. I think it will make a little lighter “cake” and give more space between the vegetables.
 Still, I loved the way it looked and tasted – not quite a quiche, not quite a frittata, not quite an omelet – but a savory “cake” instead. Ottolenghi says to serve warm, rather than hot. I think it would be good either way (first hand knowledge from having reheated in the microwave). It would also be delicious at room temperature, making it ideal for taking to a picnic or dinner at someone’s house. Serve in medium slices as a side dish, or in large slices with a salad as a main course. Try baking it in a square pan and slice in squares for an hors d’oeuvre.
 Either way, it won’t last long and it’ll be one of those recipes you’ll make over and over again and adapt to your liking.

CAULIFLOWER CAKE

From “Plenty More” by Yotam Ottolenghi
Serves 4 to 6 (I think it serves 8 or more, even as a main course, with a salad on the side- CCL)
• 1 small cauliflower, outer leaves removed, broken into 1¼-inch florets (1 lb/450 g)
• 1 medium red onion, peeled (6 oz/170 g)
• 5 tablespoons olive oil
• 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
• 7 eggs (scant 1 lb/440 g)
• 1/2 cup basil leaves, chopped
• 1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1/3 teaspoons round turmeric
• 5 ounces coarsely grated Parmesan or another mature cheese
• Melted unsalted butter, for brushing
• 1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
• 1 teaspoon nigella seeds
• Salt
• Black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400ºF/200ºC.
Place the cauliflower florets in a saucepan and add 1 teaspoon salt. Cover with water and simmer for 15 minutes, until the florets are quite soft. They should break when pressed with a spoon. Drain and set aside in a colander to dry.
Cut 4 round slices, each 1/4-inch thick, off one end of the onion and set aside. Coarsely chop the rest of the onion and place in a small pan with the oil and rosemary. Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until soft. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Transfer the onion to a large bowl, add the eggs and basil, whisk well, and then add the flour, baking powder, turmeric, Parmesan, 1 teaspoon salt, and plenty of pepper. Whisk until smooth before adding the cauliflower and stirring gently, trying not to break up the florets.
Line the base and sides of a 9 1/2-inch springform cake pan with parchment paper. Brush the sides with melted butter, then mix together the sesame and nigella seeds and toss them around the inside of the pan so that they stick to the sides. Pour the cauliflower mixture into the pan, spreading it evenly, and arrange the reserved onion rings on top. Place in the center of the oven and bake for 45 minutes, until golden brown and set; a knife inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean. Remove from the oven and leave for at least 20 minutes before serving. It needs to be served just warm, rather than hot, or at room temperature.
Easy Acorn Squash And Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Easy Acorn Squash and Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Still looking for Thanksgiving side dish ideas? Here’s one that won’t take more than five minutes to prepare and tastes great. No peeling involved – you can eat the skin on acorn squash.

The recipe is so embarrassingly simple, it’s hardly a recipe. Just wash the squash, cut in half lengthwise, remove the seeds and cut into slices about 1/2 inch think. Smear with a little melted butter on both sides, then sprinkle each side with salt and pepper, and a mixture of equal parts bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes or until you can easily pierce the flesh with a fork.Here are a few more ideas if you still are undecided about side dishes for your Thanksgiving table:

Fennel Gratinée or Roasted Fennel 

Insalata di Rinforza

Stuffed onions

Squash and Couscous casserole

And as a relief for the digestive system: Citrus salad 

If you’re looking for a primer on how to brine and cook a turkey, click here to see how I do it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 
Acorn Squash with Parmesan Coating
Wash the squash, cut in half lengthwise, then remove the seeds and cut into slices about 1/2 inch thick. Smear with a little melted butter on both sides, then sprinkle each side with salt and pepper, and a mixture of equal parts bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes or until you can easily pierce the flesh with a fork.
Squash And The Columbian Exchange

Squash and The Columbian Exchange

OK, you may be wondering “What’s The Columbian Exchange?” And what’s it got to do with this recipe of couscous and butternut squash? Well, for those of you in the U.S., it’s Columbus Day today. Now I know there’s a huge controversy surrounding the Italian explorer’s trips to the Western hemisphere and the “discovery” of America. But this is a blog about food and travel, so I steer clear of geopolitics here. What I will tell you though, is that his travels to the New World starting in 1492 opened the gateway to exchange between Europe and the Americas — some good, like foods, crops and livestock — and some not so good, like communicable diseases and slavery.

We’ll stick to the food exchange on this post.
Can you imagine Italy without tomatoes; Ireland without potatoes or Switzerland without chocolate? No, me either. But the Columbian Exchange, as it has come to be known, introduced those foods to other lands that hundreds of years later have nearly become icons of those nations’ cuisine. In addition to the above examples, for instance, you can thank the Columbian exchange for oranges in Florida and bananas in Ecuador.
Squash made its way from the New World to Europe, which is why I thought this recipe would be perfect to present for Columbus Day. It combines flavors from the west (squash) with spices from the East (cinnamon, saffron). It’s also a recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi, an Israeli-born chef whose recipes are enjoyed around the world. Columbus might have missed his goal of finding a sea route to Asia, but his travels kicked off an international exchange that was to alter world cuisine forever.
For those of you living anywhere near New York City, the statue in Columbus Circle pays tribute to the sailor from Genoa. It has stood on a granite column about 70 feet off the ground since 1892, visible to cars and passersby in this busy neighborhood of Manhattan next to the Time-Warner Center.
But if you travel to Columbus Circle now, you won’t see the statue from the street. Instead, climb six stories of stairs, amid scaffolding, and witness Columbus close up in a conceptual art installation by the Japanese artist, Tatzu Nishi. Until Nov. 18, he’s the centerpiece of what looks like a living room in a New York City apartment.
Here’s the big guy himself – all 13 feet of marble. Until now, only the birds had such an intimate view.

 

His feet appear to be resting on a coffee table, surrounded by magazines and newspapers.

 

Have a seat and catch up with the news while Christopher surveys the living room.
The apartment’s wallpaper is designed with iconic American scenes.

 

Want to watch a little TV or read a book? No problem.

 

You’ll have a great view of the Trump Tower apartment building across the street.
While you’re there, savor the view of Central Park from your perch in the sky with Columbus.
Then come home and make this vegetarian dish of couscous with butternut squash and apricots from Ottolenghi – a legacy, if you will, from Columbus.
If you’re in New York and want to visit, you’ll need a ticket. It’s free. Click here to find out more about the artist and the art installation.

Couscous with dried apricots and butternut squash
From “Ottolenghi, The Cookbook”
Printable recipe here
Serves four
(I increased the ingredients by half and made 1 1/2 times the recipe and it served way more than six as a side dish. I would count on at least six servings or more from the base recipe.

1 large (red) onion, thinly sliced
6 tbs olive oil
50g dried apricots – (1/2 cup)
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2 cm dice
250g couscous (1 1/2 cups)
400ml chicken or vegetable stock (1 1/2 cups)
a pinch of saffron strands
3 tbs roughly chopped tarragon
3 tbs roughly chopped mint
3 tbs roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (go easy on the cinnamon – it’s very assertive – I made 1 1/2 times this recipe and used this amount, but next time I’d use only 1 tsp.)
grated zest of 1 lemon
coarse sea salt and black pepper
(I also added 1/2 cup toasted pecans.)

Preheat the oven to 180d Celsius. (I set it at 400 degrees F.)
Place onion in a large frying pan with 2 tbs oil and a pinch of salt. Sauté over high heat, stirring constantly for about 10 mins (I used less time), until golden brown. Set aside.
Pour hot water from the tap over the apricots just to cover them. Soak for 5 mins then drain and cut them into 5mm dice.
Mix the diced squash in 1 tbs olive oil and spread out on a baking tray to roast. Place in oven for 25 mins, until lightly colored and quite soft. (I cooked it for closer to 45 minutes)
While waiting for the butternut squash to cook, cook the couscous. Bring the stock to the boil with the saffron. Place the couscous in a large heatproof bowl and pour the boiling stock over it, plus the remaining olive oil (3 tbs). Cover with clingfilm and leave for about 10 mins for all of the liquid to be absorbed. When done, fluff with up with a fork. Then add the onions, squash, apricots, herbs, cinnamon and lemon zest. Mix well with hands, trying not to mash the squash to bits.
Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary. Serve warmish or cold.
Ottolenghi

Ottolenghi

 If there’s one chef in England whose name keeps springing up on food blogs, it’s Yoram Ottolenghi. A Jew who was born and raised in Jerusalem to a German mother and an Italian father, his food bears a decidedly middle Eastern influence, and a broader Mediterranean one as well.  He moved to London in 1997, ostensibly to study for a doctorate degree, but got sidelined along the way to study at Le Cordon Bleu instead.  A business partnership with Sami Tamini, a Palestinian also raised in Jerusalem,  led to the opening of four shops in London, one of which I had to check out on my recent visit. My friend Mariana and I went to the Islington location, the only one of the Ottolenghi shops that has an area where diners can actually be seated.

 

Still, we decided to choose take-out from the bountiful offerings available and transport our booty home to eat in the comfort of Mariana and Carlo’s living room  — much easier than keeping four little ones happy in hard plastic chairs in a cramped seating area.

 

 

We got something to please all appetites – the children’s less adventuresome palates were happy with the tender beef filet and potatoes, while the adults marveled at the range of flavors in the vegetarian dishes – winter slaw, eggplants with turmeric yogurt, cauliflower and lentil salads, and a melange of snow peas, asparagus and water cress — oh and foccaccia too, plus a delicious selection of desserts I forgot to photograph in the frenzy of eating.

Having flipped through his two cookbooks, Ottolenghi and Plenty, and now eaten his food, it’s apparent that Ottolenghi loves to give herbs and spices a starring role, including ones that may be unfamiliar to most Americans, like zatar and sumac. Back at home, I knew I had to try to cook some of the bold and flavorful dishes I had eaten. Italian food is my first love, but I do step out to other cuisines too. I chose to recreate a hybrid version between the eggplant dish I had eaten from the restaurant, and an eggplant recipe in one of his cookbooks. Although I tucked a small jar of that sumac in my suitcase, you won’t need any esoteric spices for this recipe, but what you’ll still achieve is a new and fresh flavor sensation that’s a far cry (at least for me) from the food I’ve been eating all my life.
 
Ottolenghi-inspired Eggplant 
2 medium to large eggplants
olive oil to brush on the eggplant
1 small container (6 oz) Greek yogurt
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. mustard seeds
1/4 tsp. coriander seeds
salt, pepper to taste
toasted pine nuts
pomegranate seeds
cilantro leaves
I peel eggplant “stripes” leaving on some of the skin. Cut into 1/4 inch slices and grill, brushing each slice of eggplant with some olive oil. If you don’t have a grill, place the eggplant slices on a cookie sheet that’s been greased with olive oil. Brush the top side of the eggplant slices with oil. Roast in a 400 degree oven until cooked through and golden, flipping once.
Let the eggplant slices cool, and arrange on a platter. To make the sauce, grind the seeds in a mortar and pestle – or if you have a small electric coffee grinder, use that. Mix all ingredients together except the last three. Spread the sauce over the eggplant, then sprinkle on pine nuts that you’ve toasted a little to give some color, and some pomegranate seeds. Top with some cilantro leaves. Serve at room temperature.