One of the joys of city living (especially in a walkable community like Capitol Hill) are the treasures you can find in the street, up for grabs. On any given weekend day I’ll pass a handful of houses with various pieces of furniture and/or boxes of books and household items marked with a big “FREE” sign. One day last summer while rummaging through one of these boxes I discovered a Southern Living cookbook compilation of annual recipes from 1979.
1979 … Sony introduced the Walkman, at a price of $200 (average monthly rent in 1979 was $280). Margaret Thatcher was elected British Prime Minister. The YMCA sued the Village People for libel because of their song of the same name. Finally, in October of that year, Mrs. RE Bunker of Bartlett TX apparently wrote to Southern Living magazine suggesting its readers serve cauliflower as a main dish.
If you’re fresh out of cauliflower, you’re in luck. It’s currently over 50% off at the Safeways in our area and on Safeway.com for home delivery (regularly $3.99/pound , you can buy it now for $1.99/pound). You can also find green cabbage for half off (currently $.49/pound) and broccoli for $1.68/pound (regular price per pound – $1.98).
Having an assortment of cruciferous vegetables in my fridge, I thought Mrs R.E. Bunker was on to something. The recipe is essentially cauliflower with chunks of ham and a crunchy topping, baked in cheese sauce. Sort of like a mac and cheese without the mac. It looked like it might turn out a little heavy and, well, awfully white to me so I tinkered with the recipe a bit. First of all, the original recipe called for cheddar cheese but since I didn’t have any I substituted goat cheese. I thought it made a good substitution; the texture was the same but the goat cheese gave the dish a lightness and tang it would not have had otherwise. Then, instead of using just cauliflower,
I used a mix of broccoli, cauliflower and red cabbage and increased the ratio of vegetables to sauce by about 50%. When it seemed like it might not be quite saucy enough I stirred in a few serving spoons of greek yogurt. Then, instead of topping the casserole with buttered breadcrumbs, I used slivered almonds. Just about any kind of nut or seed would work here. Finally, after plating, I dusted each serving with a few dashes of smoky paprika. Et voila – a perfect main dish casserole that I’m sure Mrs. RE Bunker would approve of!
It also made a great excuse to pop open a bottle of one of our newest finds, Bodega Hiriart Lágrima Rosado 2010 ($13). The Lágrima Rosado, or Rosé, is 70% Tempranillo (called Tinta del País locally), 15% Garnacha (Grenache), and 15% Verdejo, a white wine grape. While most French rosés are made only from red wine grapes, Spanish rosés sometimes have white wine blended in for freshness, acidity, and also to preserve the wines longer. The wine is a beautiful magenta color and when you drink it you can taste a lot of fruit upfront, which is wonderfully balanced with a nice tannic finish. It was a terrific companion to the casserole , the fruitiness complementing its smoky ham and paprika flavors, but was fresh and tannic enough to cut right through the cheese sauce. Now onto the recipe.
Main Dish Cauliflower (& other stuff)
1 quart or so of any one (or a combination of ) cauliflower and/or broccoli florets, shredded red or green cabbage
1 cup cooked chopped ham
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flower
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 pound goat cheese
1 cup slivered almonds
Approx 1/4 cup Greek yogurt
Steam florets for about 15 minutes or until tender. You do not need to pre cook the cabbage. Mix vegetables together, then place in a greased 2 quart casserole. Sprinkle with the ham.
Melt butter in heavy saucepan; blend in flower and cook until bubbly. Over medium heat, gradually add milk, stirring constantly until thickened and bubbly. Add cheese, stirring till melted. Salt and pepper to taste. Spoon sauce over vegetables and ham. At this point, if it doesn’t look quite “saucy” enough to you, you can mix in a few big spoonfuls of greek yogurt. Should not take more than 1/4 cup or so. Then sprinkle almonds over casserole and bake, uncovered, in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.
Serve with a dusting of smoky paprika and a green salad on the side.