Last week* I mentioned that we’d been on a big breakfast-for-dinner spree this winter, less out of a noble desire for inexpensive, balanced, wholesome meals and more because scrambling eggs at the last minute allows us to go all the way to 15 minutes before dinner to come up with an idea for it, which is meal-planning equivalent of the heavens opening up and glorifying all of my late-afternoon lethargy at last.
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?
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.
This site is 7 years, 4 months and 5 days old, which is exactly how long I’ve been meaning to tell you about one of my favorite ways to make cauliflower. You think I would have gotten around to it already, as it’s the very cauliflower dish I ever knew, but instead I’ve been distracting us with quiches* and soups, and pasta and fritters. It’s a shame, as this is so much easier to make.
I know what you’re thinking; you don’t even need to say it: It’s time for a fritter intervention. A frittervention? Here, I’ll go first: My name is Deb Perelman and I have a fritter problem. And I really do. I pretty much want to fritter all the things, all the time — broccoli, zucchini, apples, parsnips, an Indian medley, leeks (here), and potatoes, potatoes, potatoes, I actually have to hold myself back, and try to evenly space my fritter episodes throughout the year, so not to pique your concern about my fritter consumption. It’s not easy because no matter how many times I talk it out in a circle of understanding peers, I fear I will still think that fritters are the answer to most food dilemmas, most of the time.
I do this dreary thing every October where I decide on the first day that requires a scarf and a hustle in your step to keep warm that the long, gloomy descent into winter has begun and soon the world will be brown, gray and frozen and this will continue until April or beyond and I might as well stock up on some farro and root vegetables and climb into my igloo because that’s all there will be for a long time. I am clearly no fun at all, and also a little blind as I declare this while stepping over crinkly flame-throwers of leaves, while the sky is still fantastically blue and generally, without even have stepped through a farmers market. Because the markets? Are actually as pretty as they get all year, tables overflowing with everything from carrots to late summer squash, hearty greens, tiny pumpkins, marble-sized potatoes and great big globes of broccoli and cauliflower. It’s now or never to haul it home.
I used to make a lot of quiches and savory tarts. I still think they’re one of the food Greats; a delicious, buttery crust and almost any filling you can think of. With a salad of mixed greens and some crisp-tender green beans with flaky salt, I’m not sure I’ve ever needed anything else to fill out a meal. Oh wait, a glass of wine. Now that there is some Deb Meal Bliss.