So friends, in the category of cooking-as-life-metaphor, my Rustic Cauliflower Bake was one hot white mess, a Mad Men conjurer with a farm-to-table prescience, a decadent rapscallion with a virtuous soul. In short, it is a dish you should consider inviting for Thanksgiving.
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We begin with the grim reality that cutting cauliflower is a pill. I am inclined less toward trimming than whacking at it like an unwelcome weed. As your friend, I can’t help but encourage you to get one of the those cream colored lovelies from the market at this time of year, but as your partner in week night sanity, I encourage you to get someone else to cut it up.
As that petulant brassica oleracea steamed away in my chicken stock and water, I mixed up my cheeses, sour cream and spices, skipping the garlic powder simply because I had none. (Had I given it proper consideration, I would have softened some fresh garlic in olive oil, which would be a fine addition to this dish. Think about it.)
Here is where it all came together: I didn’t even drain that cauliflower, because there was just a tad of liquid left in my pan (but no I did not overcook it and nor should you). I didn’t so much mix it with my creamy spices as dump that stuff on top and give it a stir. I used cheap cheddar from Trader Joe’s, nothing-special sour cream and some whatever bread crumbs BUT also the last of the tiny red and yellow tomatoes from the market, sliced up so gently, and then all topped with some ambrosial Spanish paprika I picked up over spring break in Miami.
What is amazing about this dish is that unlike the veggies in so many nostalgic casseroles, the cauliflower maintains just enough firmness to gently resist your bite, while the cream mix melts around in submission, the paprika landing a fragrant final punch. I can’t say this dish will be the most beautiful at your table , but it will be among the more welcome. As you serve it, ask your guests to tell a story about their worst job ever. Dig in.
Cook cauliflower in chicken broth until just tender. Use 1/2 cup chicken broth and 1/2 cup water.
Mix together worcestershire sauce, powered onion, ground mustard, black pepper, sour cream, and cheddar cheese.
Fold this mixture gently with the cooked cauliflower until well coated. Place in a 2.5 quart baking dish. (Spray baking dish with cooking spray before pouring in mixture.)
Slice tomatoes thinly and place over top of cauliflower mixture.
Mix bread crumbs with melted butter.
Sprinkle bread crumbs and paprika on top of tomatoes and cauliflower mixture.
Bake in a 350 degree preheated oven for 35 minutes.
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).