moosewood’s cauliflower cheese pie
For nearly four months this blog has languished here, neglected and forlorn, half-heartedly attempting to entice passersby with embarrassingly out-of-season recipes for things like zucchini and raspberries and — good lord — rhubarb. It’s not the blog’s fault, really. In September I started an awesome new job and, awesome though it is, it required some settling in to. Then all of a sudden it was Thanksgiving, followed immediately by the inevitable Christmas craziness — a month-long stretch during which we saw our pizza dude far more frequently than I care to admit. On the rare occasions that I found time to make something worth mentioning here, I looked at my calendar and realized it would be weeks before I was likely to do so again.
But I have things under control now. For the past month I’ve managed to cook almost every night. Real meals. Made from actual food! Last week I signed up for Eat Your Books, a handy-dandy new website that allows me to search the index of every cookbook I own in a matter of seconds. As I contemplated a lone head of cauliflower yesterday, Eat Your Books informed me that my library contains 99 recipes for cauliflower — a whole world of possibilities. And from that world of possibilities I selected a recipe I’ve made a dozen times before. Hey, baby steps.
Moosewood’s Cauliflower Cheese Pie worked its way into my repertoire five years ago, when a recipe for a slimmed-down version of it appeared in The Washington Post. I wasn’t much of a fan of cauliflower at the time — I’d had steamed cauliflower and raw cauliflower, and I found them equally unappetizing. But this recipe involved cheese and garlic and — be still my beating heart — a crispy potato crust. I made it that night with my mom, and then the two of us made a rather unladylike production of devouring the whole damn thing.
It’s been a cool weather staple ever since, which is hardly surprising considering how freakin’ good it is. It starts with the aforementioned crispy potato crust and ends, as all good things do, with cheese. In between there’s cauliflower — tender, pan-roasted, and flecked with bits of garlic and caramelized onion. All of this is bound together by the soft custard of a mere two eggs and a splash of milk. It’s crispy and comforting and sweet and nutty and cheesy, and when my mom called last night it was bubbling away in the oven. “Oh yum,” she gushed, “yum, yum, yum.”
for the crust
2 c. grated raw potato (from 2-3 peeled potatoes)
½ t. salt
1 egg white, beaten
¼ c. grated onion
for the filling
1 T. olive oil
1 c. diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ t. salt
freshly ground black pepper
¼ t. dried thyme
½ t. dried basil
1 head cauliflower, broken into florets
1 c. (4-5 oz.) grated cheddar cheese
¼ c. milk
1) Preheat the oven to 400°F and generously oil a 9″ pie dish. Seriously, be generous. This is the difference between ending up with the crispy potato crust attached to your pie and the crispy potato crust attached to your pie dish.
2) Keeping each separate, grate the cheese, then the potatoes, then the onion using a food processor or box grater.
3) To make the crust, place the grated potatoes in a colander and toss them with the salt. Wait ten minutes, then squeeze out the excess water. A salad spinner works well for this, or you can wring the potatoes out in a dishtowel. Stir together the potatoes, egg white and onion in a large bowl, then pat the mixture evenly into your pie dish , building them up the sides to form the crust.
4) Bake for 30 minutes, then brush the crust lightly with olive oil and bake for 10 more minutes. Remove from oven and lower the temp to 375°F.
5) While the crust bakes, heat 1 T. olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, salt, pepper (to taste) and herbs and sauté for about 5 minutes until the onions are translucent. Add the cauliflower and stir well to coat. Cover and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is tender, 8-10 minutes. Add a tablespoon of water if the cauliflower begins to stick to the pan.
6) Spread half the cheese over the crust and spoon the cauliflower mixture over, then sprinkle with the rest of the cheese. Whisk together the eggs and the milk, then pour this mixture over the cauliflower cheese mixture.
7) Bake 35-40 minutes, until set.