Side Dish Archive

Thursday, October 23, 2014

cauliflower cheese

cauliflower cheese

What, you’ve never had cauliflower cheese before? Why, it’s right up there on the American Heart Association’s recommended diet, above the kale and below the oat bran. Okay, well, maybe just the cauliflower is. I realize this dish may sound strange if you’ve never heard of it. The first time I saw it on a menu in the UK last fall, I thought a word was missing, perhaps “with” or “and.” I mean, you cannot make cheese out of cauliflower or vice-versa, or at least I hope not.* And then I tried it, bubbling and brown in a small ramekin aside my roast** at a tiny Inn in the middle of nowhere that looks like something you’d see in a Bridget Jones Diary (basically where I learned everything I knew about the UK before I got there, well, that and Morrissey songs) and I stopped talking. I stopped thinking. My heart may or may not have stopped beating for a moment, though I’m sure it was love, not fibrillations. How could it be anything but, when cauliflower florets are draped with a sharp cheddar cheese sauce spiked with mustard and a bit of cayenne and then baked in the oven until bronzed and, wait, what were we talking about again?

cauliflower, spice, s/p, butter, milk, cheese
chopped florets

This is a British dish, if the sharp cheddar, mustard powder, cayenne and charmed name didn’t give it away. I realize that British food has long been a punching bag for other supposedly superior world cuisines, but I found this to be anything but the case. Even if I had, the awesome names of national dishes — toad in the holes, bubble and squeaks, spotted dicks, singing hinnies, jam roly-polys and doorstop sandwiches — would have more than compensated for any failures in the flavor department.

cook until firm-tender

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

cauliflower slaw

cauliflower slaw

Given my druthers, a word I’ve been looking for an excuse to type in a sentence for at least eight years, I would never choose a salad with lettuce in it over one that’s mostly shaved or shredded raw vegetables. I mean, lettuce — the dewy, freshly-plucked-from-the-earth stuff that spends a couple months a year gracing local farmer’s markets — can be absolutely delicious, but nine times out of ten, the same word is used to refer to that packaged stuff that doesn’t taste like a whole lot. And can we talk for just a second about that prematurely rotten red leaf that no bag of mesclun is ever without? Clearly I have spent an unnatural amount of time thinking about this. But in a world filled with avocado cup salads, broccoli slaw, butternut squash, carrot salads with harissa, feta and mint or tahini and crisped chickpeas, chopped salads with lime, sunflower seeds and radishes, crushed peas with sesame dressing and fennel with blood oranges* I’ve found little reason to worship solely at the salad altar of baby field greens.

what you'll neeed
thinly sliced raw cauliflower

Ever since I made one of my favorite salads to date, the broccoli slaw, I have wanted to make a cauliflower slaw companion for it, and I know this because I have listed it no less than five times on my sprawling To Cook list. I knew that I wanted it to be “mayo-free,” with a “sharp lemony dressing.” I knew that I wanted it to have “tiny dried currants” in it, and that maybe I’d soak/plump them in the dressing for a while so they added more than just sweetness. I knew that, like the broccoli slaw, it should have well-toasted almonds in it, and that I didn’t mind if it had capers in it, especially if they were crispy. But I couldn’t figure out the structure — I was convinced that cauliflower, shaved thinly, would be nothing but a pile of rubble, but not in a charming way. And then a couple months ago a cauliflower salad appeared on the menu of my favorite restaurant, Barbuto in the West Village (which also brought us this kale salad), and to my delight, it turned out to have many elements of the cauliflower slaw I’d been dreaming about — theirs with raisins, hazelnuts and a unholy helping of olive oil — and the cauliflower had been shaved thin on an adjustable-blade slicer and it was perfect. Sure, there was some rubble but there was an equal amount of nicely intact slices and all I wanted to go home and make it the very next second.

cooling the almonds outside

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

summer squash gratin with salsa verde

summer squash gratin with gruyere and salsa verde

For someone who has, at best, only moderate interest in eating all things zucchini and summer squash, this site’s archives tell different story. I mean, how about a torte, some fritters, zucchini bread or zucchini bread pancakes? Maybe a rice gratin, crisps or my favorite 5-minute side dish is more your speed? The 40-plus recipes from previous summers would make you think I jump for joy when the inevitable August glut of green and yellow piles at the Greenmarkets; instead, I approach them warily.

let's definitely never talk about the time I went all the way up to Columbia University to buy summer squash
salting the summer squash

I blame my weird need for a challenge. I find zucchini and summer squash a little… slippery and limp in most dishes. It’s usually under-seasoned. But rather than wear my failure to see what others do in a food as a badge of honor, it bothers me. I want to be proven wrong. Show me the light, crooknecks and cocozzelles!

many shallots

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

broccoli, cheddar and wild rice casserole

broccoli, cheddar and wild rice casserole

Although my parents claim to have loved us, there were all sorts of delicious foods that my sister and I knew our friends got to eat in their homes that we were denied in our own, glorious meal-like substances such as shake-and-bake chicken, hamburger helpers, sugar cereals with colorful marshmallows, and popcorn in that thing that unspirals itself and expands in the oven, like, whoa. Childhood was tough! Even now as (theoretically) an adult, I routinely hear about wondrous foods that I have never even once experienced, such as the broccoli-cheese casserole that someone (was it you?) requested I try my hand at earlier this year.

rinsing wild rice like a pro these days
what you'll need + wild rice in the cooker

Unfamiliar with the dish, I asked around and it turns out, I really do seem the only person who has never had it. That said, among people I’ve interrogated, reviews are mixed. One friend gushed that it was the only way he’d eat broccoli growing up, another asked me to please bring it back in style, but the girl at the coffee shop this morning said it “smelled disgusting and was often made with Cheez-Whiz,” (sigh, another magical food on the Denied list). And it would be journalistically irresponsible for me not to mention that the dish was called out by name by Cook’s Illustrated founder Chris Kimball in a New York Times op-ed in the days after my beloved Gourmet magazine folded as an example of the web failing to live up to its promise. “Google ‘broccoli casserole’ and make the first recipe you find,” he challenged. “I guarantee it will be disappointing.”

ready for assembly

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

warm lentil and potato salad

warm lentil and potato salad

You don’t have to look at me like that. I know, I know how you and most people feel about lentils. About how they’re mealy and brown and generally lackluster, like health food putty; about how you’ll eat them, sure, but only if you must. And how if I were trying to convince you that lentils are something that you will very much love if only you could try them this way, my way, that this yellow-and-muddy-purple-brown speckled thing up top, despite the ambitious efforts of the bright green parsley chop scattered over it, is not going to be the thing to pull it off.

what you'll need
lentils cooking with bay, thyme and shallot

But I wish it would. This warm lentil salad is a perfect mid-winter everything — a gorgeous pack-for-work lunch to keep you on this side of your Resolution karma, a perfect side dish to a roast, chops or sausage, and my new favorite thing to break a softly-cooked egg over. The creamy golden potatoes nestle among the perfect discs of thyme-scented lentils and the entire salad zings with finely chopped cornichon, capers and minced shallot that’s been lightly pickled in red wine vinegar, and a good grassy/fruity olive oil. It lightly crunches when you take a bite.

cornichon

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