With the holidays just around the corner, you might be looking for a new and unusual crowd-pleasing side dish to wow your guests. This is one of my favorite vegetable dishes, introduced to me by Tessa Kiros in her wonderful cookbook: Twelve: A Tuscan Cook Book. She introduces the readers to the twelve months of Tuscan cooking and seasonal ingredients. When I’ve served at our mission house in Tuscany, I would cook through this book and this recipe became one of our house favorites. As Tessa says, “pastry-less baked vegetable pies are very common and are made with various vegetables depending on the season, such as green beans, artichokes and spinach.” You can also use broccoli in place of cauliflower.
We just served this last night for the opening to our Gregorian Chant Retreat and received great compliments. This would make a lovely addition to your Thanksgiving table. If you want to make it gluten free, just substitute gluten free flour for all purpose flour in the the béchamel sauce.
Baked Cauliflower Pie (sformato di cavolfiore)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees/ Wash the cauliflower and trim away the hard stem. Put it into a pot of boiling salted water and boil for about 10 min. or until it has softened.
- Meanwhile, make the béchamel sauce:
1) Melt butter in a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat until foaming. Add shallots (if using) and sauté 2 minutes. Do not let brown.
2) Reduce heat to low, add flour, and whisk until smooth and raw taste is cooked off, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk. Add bay leaf and cook until just thickened, stirring often, about 10 minutes.
3) Stir in nutmeg and salt. Season with ground white pepper. Cool sauce slightly. Discard bay leaf before using.
- Drain the cauliflower and chop it up finely or roughly puree it. Put into a bowl and mix in the eggs, 2 cups béchamel, parmesan cheese, a grating of fresh nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste, adjusting if necessary. Mix well with wooden spoon.
- Butter an oven dish or loaf pan and sprinkle with half of the breadcrumbs to line the pan, shaking away the excess (use gluten free breadcrumbs if making gluten free). Pour in the mixture and sprinkle the surface with the remaining breadcrumbs.
- Bake for 30-40 min. in the hot oven, until the top is golden and slightly crusty. Serve warm.
Many years ago, we had a cookbook from Maine that had the most extraordinary apple pie recipe. It had a layer of crushed graham crackers and caramel sauce underneath the apples. We lost that cookbook in the move to our new kitchen, but every fall when the apples are being harvested I think back to this recipe. This year, I decided to re-create it in an apple crisp. It sure took less time than making a pie, but the flavor combination was there.
For gluten-free cooking, try substituting gluten-free cookies for the graham crackers and brown rice flour for the flour. I think you might be pleased.
Graham Cracker Apple Crisp with Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce
- Lightly grease 8x8” square baking dish
- Filling: Toss apples together with brown sugar, cinnamon, flour, salt, lemon zest, lemon juice and the melted butter.
- Topping: Melt butter in a medium bowl and add all other topping ingredients. Mix until crumbly and evenly mixed.
- Sprinkle over apples and pat down lightly. Bake at 350º for about 30-40 minutes, until apples are soft and the filling bubbles and the crisp is golden.
- Meanwhile make Salted Caramel Sauce: Add the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of a medium saucepan. Heat the sugar over medium-high heat, whisking it as it begins to melt. It's okay if the sugar begins to form clumps- keep whisking and as it continues to cook, they will melt back down. Stop whisking once all of the sugar has melted, and swirl the pan occasionally while the sugar cooks.
- Continue cooking until the sugar has reached a deep amber color. It should look almost a reddish-brown, and have a slight toasted aroma. This is the point where caramel can go from perfect to burnt in a matter of seconds, so keep a close eye. If you are using an instant-read thermometer, it will be around 350 degrees F. Watch this step very carefully!
- Remove the caramel from the heat and add the butter all at once. Be careful, as the caramel will bubble up when the butter is added. Whisk the butter into the caramel until it is completely melted.
- Slowly pour the cream into the caramel. Again, be careful because the mixture will bubble up ferociously.
- Whisk until all of the cream has been incorporated and you have a smooth sauce. Add the fleur de sel or kosher salt and whisk to incorporate.
- Set the sauce aside to cool for 10 to 15 minutes and then pour into jars. The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 1 month.
- Serve crisp warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and salted caramel sauce.
This past week, we invited artists to step away for a few days of retreat as they enjoyed renewing their vision and sharing together, in an atmosphere of Benedictine hospitality on the shores of beautiful Cape Cod Bay. Each day was punctuated by two lectures given by renowned art historian, Msgr. Timothy Verdon. He shared his passionate love of art, with beautiful images—both familiar and unknown—in a series of seven post-Easter lectures. Art lovers had the opportunity to fellowship together, while Msgr. Verdon discussed what it means to see with artistic understanding. It was a treat for our entire community and a privilege to be behind the scenes creating meals for them to enjoy. (Read more about the retreat here!)
Oscar Wilde said, “The artist is the creator of beautiful things.” Even if you don’t consider yourself an artist, I believe that you are. Every one of us wishes to create beautiful things out of nothing. Take this Lemon-Almond Butter Cake for example…
- For the curd, combine zest, juice, sugar, salt and eggs in a heatproof bowl, and beat well.
- Add butter, and place over a saucepan full of simmering water. Cook, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, until mixture thickens into curd, about 5 minutes.
- Strain into a bowl, and press plastic wrap onto surface to keep skin from forming. Refrigerate until cool, at least 1 1/2 hours.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9-inch spring-form pan with 1 tablespoon butter, and dust with 1 tablespoon flour, shaking out excess.
- With an electric mixer, cream the remaining butter and 1 cup sugar together until light and fluffy. Sift together the remaining flour, baking powder and salt, and stir in.
- In a separate bowl, whisk eggs until they start to foam. Do not overbeat or the cake will be tough. Add eggs and ground almonds to batter, and mix well.
- Scrape batter into the prepared pan. Drop 8 individual tablespoons lemon curd around perimeter of batter, leaving a 1-inch border, and taking care to space drops evenly.
- Drop 3 to 4 tablespoons curd into center of batter. Refrigerate remaining curd for another use. Sprinkle cake with toasted almonds and 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar, depending on taste.
- Bake until cake is toasty brown on top and a toothpick inserted into cake (not curd) comes out clean, about 40 minutes.
- Let cool on rack 10 minutes, then remove sides of pan, and cool completely.
- Whip cream with almond liqueur. Present cake at table, and offer whipped cream on the side.
(Recipe adapted from the New York Times)
Whole grains have firmly established a prominent place in today’s overall diet, and are continuing to grow in acceptance and popularity. Once a taste for them has been acquired, less textured, more refined grains often have less appeal. Years ago when I first sampled wild rice I was not at all eager to have it again. Last night when it was served for dinner, I immediately wanted a second helping.
During this time of Lent, when many people choose to eat less meat, and have simpler meals, it can be a good time to introduce more grains into the menu such as this flavorful combination of wild rice with mushrooms and leeks.
Wild Rice with Mushrooms and Leeks
- Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan, add the onion, and cook over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until translucent.
- Add 5 cups of water, 2 teaspoons of salt, and the wild rice.
- Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to very low, and simmer, covered, for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until the rice is tender. Drain well.
- Place the drained rice in a bowl, add the remaining tablespoon of butter, the scallions, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and the pepper.
- Slice mushrooms, cut up leeks to similar size as mushrooms.
- Sauté both in just enough olive oil to brown.
- Stir into rice. Add wine and heat all together till hot.
- Taste for seasonings and serve hot.
Every now and then when our convent dinner is some kind of a one dish meal, Sisters like to have it served right from the big skillet in which it has been cooked. This is especially so as the weather becomes cooler. When we are a little chilled around the edges nothing comforts one as much as a piping hot bowl of savory soup or stew. Today was such a day, cool, wet and rainy out of doors. Warm, dry and welcoming inside, with the aroma of a tasty combination of the day’s harvested vegetables.
Our convent chef has been eager to make a hearty chicken stew with an Italian twist. Using the last of our autumn garden vegetables she produced a most flavorful dish and chose to serve it from the skillet, which gave everyone a warm comforting sense of generously being cared for in a special way. A along with some crusty home baked bread and a beautiful kale salad we shared a dinner which magically lifted our spirits and pleased us all.
Hearty Italian Chicken and Autumn Harvest Veggie Stew
- Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit, and line a baking sheet with foil.
- Place the split chicken breasts on the baking sheet, and drizzle them with a little oil, and a couple of good pinches of salt and pepper.
- Cut the tops off of the heads of garlic, drizzle each head with a little oil, plus a pinch of salt and pepper, and wrap each head in a small piece of foil; place on the baking sheet next to the chicken.
- Roast the chicken, along with the garlic, for 45 minutes; then allow both to cool until they can be handled.
- Once they are cooled, shred the chicken, and set it aside; then, squeeze the roasted garlic from the papers, and using your knife or a fork, make the cloves into a paste; set the paste aside for a moment.
- Place a medium-large pot over medium to medium-high heat, and drizzle in about 2-3 tablespoons of the oil, plus add in the tablespoon of butter; once melted together, add in the onion and allow it sweat for about 3-4 minutes, until translucent and softened.
- To the onion add the roasted garlic “paste”, and stir it in to combine.
- Next, add in the diced carrots, parsnips, celery and butternut squash and stir to combine; add in the Italian seasoning, plus a pinch or two of salt and black pepper, and the red pepper flakes, and stir to incorporate.
- Add in the tomato paste and stir, and allow it to cook with the vegetables for about 2-3 minutes, or until the “raw” flavor of it is cooked out of it.
- Next, add in the chicken stock and stir, cover with a lid and simmer very gently on low for about 20-22 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the veggies are tender.
- Turn off the heat, if using; add in the kale and stir to incorporate it, and allow it wilt into the soup for a few minutes; then, finish the soup by adding in the shredded chicken, the basil and the parsley (also, check your seasoning at this point to see if any additional salt/pepper is needed).
- To serve, add about ¼ cup or so of cooked gnocchi to your bowl, and ladle some of the stew over top; garnish with some grated Parmesan, if desired, and serve with warm bread.