there was a request for cauliflower cheese. but there was also no way that was going to be possible. no sooner had i heard those two words, vivid, painful memories of cauliflower cheese served to me from a bain marie at the surfers paradise rsl during one of the tri-weekly 4:30pm dining experiences came flooding back…like a dream recalled. and there was no way i was prepared to return to that traumascape..not even on a psychological level through food-induced memories. so a compromise had to be made. and it was found in the gratin…with a smattering of parmesan over the top as opposed to cauliflower glued together by cheese which is too yellow for its own good, and some pouring cream as opposed to a flour based white sauce.
the other thing i did to offset the potential flashbacks and visions of a bowling club and a piano man playing show tunes to a crowd of geriatrics who crawled in at 4pm for the early bird special, was to cut and cut and cut right through the stoginess. first with some pangrattato (i adapted this recipe and added some toasted blanched almonds – they give a layer of unprecedented texture. as i kept telling my photographer – i am doing some very important things with this pangrattato and i dont think it would be going too far to say that im staging a small revolution right here and now. it was met with a non-committal nod so i will share this thought with you all, who may be more receptive.) i also tossed through some rocket at the end…which cuts through the clag, but mainly the psychological scars, nicely. the cherry tomatoes have a similar effect here. but as i was wandering the aisles of the supermarket in preparation, i happened upon some pistachios and id like to suggest that some lightly toasted pistachios strewn throughout the finished dish will elevate this from a wonderful tasting dish to a visually appealing one and with the right photographer, you will be able to create something of a chef d’oeuvre merely out of a humble cauliflower.
2 punnets cherry tomatoes
5 cloves garlic
bunch of thyme
dried chilli flakes
3 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt & pepper
couple handfuls parmesan cheese
2 large handfuls of torn bread (preferably sourdough, preferably stale)
150g blanched almonds
3 crushed garlic cloves
1 dried red chilli
couple of sprigs of thyme
preheat the oven to 200 degrees. first blanch cauliflower florets in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes. drain and place in a large mixing bowl. toss with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 3 garlic cloves crushed, 2 cloves of garlic unpeeled, a tsp of cayenne pepper, pinch of chili flakes, some thyme leaves as well as a couple of sticks of thyme. make sure it is properly coated.
put this into an ovenproof gratin dish and add the cream and grate over some parmesan and dot with a few knobs of butter. cover with foil and put into oven for 45 minutes.
meanwhile make your pangrattato. roughly chop up your almonds, tear up bread into crumbs and crush garlic with a good pinch of salt.
in a fry pan pour a lug of olive oil. then throw in the garlic and the almonds and toast til lightly golden. then add the bread crumbs, thyme and some dried chili.
toss for 4-5 minutes until golden brown and crunchy.
after 45 minutes remove cauliflower from the oven. remove foil and place cherry tomatoes contrived-ly in and around.
give another significant and liberal grating of parmesan over the top. and put back into the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown on top.
there are three alternative serving suggestions here. all good…no one better than the other – either with some peppery rocket…or with the pangrattato (you’d probably want to if you made it)…or all three if you are that way inclined.