Working Wonders with Cauliflower
Cauliflower Gratin with Sundried Tomatoes and Spinach

If ever a vegetable were in need of a makeover, it has to be the cauliflower. The lumpy heads huddle in grocery display cases, looking drab next to their more brightly colored neighbors. Back in the kitchen, cauliflower proves bland on its own and woefully prone to mushiness. Yes, poor cauliflower could use a little love.

Here's the thing: the very traits that initially prompt us to pass over cauliflower are the same ones that make it a fantastic cooking vegetable.

Cauliflower will pick up the flavors in whatever you're cooking, making it a good choice for rounding out stews, casseroles and stir-fries. Try tossing steamed florets with minced herbs or sprinkling them with a strong cheese (or both) for a quick side dish.

By contrast, creamy cauliflower soup seasoned only with bay leaf and pepper is the definition of simplicity. Instead of coming across as boring, a bowl of this soup is rich, slightly sweet and deeply satisfying. It's perfect with a salad as a mid-week meal or as the starter course for a fancy dinner party.

Cauliflower will probably never be as beloved as the carrot or highly esteemed as the tomato. But with a little kitchen creativity and the willingness to try, we can embrace cauliflower just as it is.

Cauliflower Gratin with Sundried Tomatoes And Spinach

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living

Serves 8 to 10.

2 tablespoons butter

2 links chicken sausage, diced

1 onion, diced

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1 large head (2 - 2 1/2 pounds) cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets

1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, cut into strips

10 ounces baby spinach

1 cup shredded Fontina cheese

Salt and pepper

3 slices day-old bread

1/4 cup shredded Parmesan, loosely packed

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Set a large Dutch oven or skillet over medium-high heat and melt a teaspoon of the butter. Add the sausage and onions, and cook until the onions turn soft and translucent. Transfer to a separate dish.

Heat the milk for 1 minute in the microwave. Melt the remaining butter in the pan and stir in the flour to form a thin paste. Slowly whisk the warm milk into the paste, making sure there are no lumps. Continue whisking gently until you see the milk starting to bubble.

Add the cauliflower, sundried tomatoes, and the reserved sausage and onions to the pan. Add a teaspoon of salt and stir to coat with the sauce. Cover the pan and cook until the cauliflower is tender but still has some crunch, 12-15 minutes. Stir occasionally during cooking.

Add the spinach to the pan and stir until it wilts. You may have to do this in two additions if the pan is very full. When all the spinach is wilted, stir in the Fontina cheese. Taste, and add salt and pepper as desired.

Pour the cauliflower mix into a 9- by 13-inch casserole dish. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, blend the bread and Parmesan cheese in a food processor until it breaks into coarse breadcrumbs. Uncover the casserole and sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the surface of the gratin. Bake uncovered for another 15-20 minutes until the cauliflower is bubbling and the breadcrumbs are golden.

Serve immediately. Leftovers will keep refrigerated for up to a week.

Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Pesto Drizzle

Serves 6 to 8.

2 tablespoons butter

2 leeks, tender white and light green parts sliced thinly

1 large head (2 - 2 1/2 pounds) cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets

Bay leaf


4 cups chicken broth

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

For the Pesto:

2 cups loosely-packed fresh basil

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts

2 cloves garlic

1/3 - 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and cook the leeks until they are very soft. Stir in the cauliflower along with the bay leaf and a teaspoon of salt, then pour the broth over. Simmer the soup until the cauliflower is very tender, about 15 minutes. Remove the bay leaf.

Using an immersion blender or food processor, blend the soup until no lumps remain and the soup is creamy. Be careful when working with hot liquids as they can easily spatter. Work in batches as needed.

Return the soup to medium heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese. Taste and add more salt as desired.

To prepare the pesto, place all the ingredients except for the olive oil in the bowl of a blender or food processor. Blend, adding 1/3 cup of olive oil in a steady stream through the pour spout. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. Add more olive oil as needed to achieve a sauce-like consistency.

Serve the soup in individual bowls with a drizzle of pesto on the top of each. Leftovers will keep refrigerated for up to a week.


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