When the weather shifts towards a decidedly fall-into-winter temperature range, my cooking shifts too in an almost subconscious way. This is no surprise to anyone who cooks a lot and who lives in a multi-season area, but nonetheless, I like the way this makes me feel connected to the natural patterns of the world around me.
The produce at the farmers market has been glorious of late: the deep greens of the lettuces, kales and their kin and the rich sunset-like hues of the tree fruits, winter squash and cruciferous clan. You almost can't avoid making a casserole or two and such was the impetus for this simple, satisfying bake. —em-i-lis
fairly small cauliflower florets (I used orange cauliflower, hence the color in the pic)
medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed
.8 - 1 ounces
pancetta, finely chopped
salt, pepper, dried/rubbed sage, fresh nutmeg
small apple, peeled, cored and sliced into thin wedges
Gruyère, grated, divided
fresh ricotta, preferably homemade, well-drained
Preheat oven to 385. Then, set a large pot of well-salted water to boil.
When the water is boiling, add the cauliflower florets, turn the heat down just a bit and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the cauliflower with a slotted spoon and place into a large mixing bowl.
Place the 1 c cubed bread in a small bowl and pour the 1/3 c milk over it. Let sit and absorb while you work on the rest of the dish.
In a 10" skillet set over medium-high heat, melt 1½ tablespoons of the butter and then add the shallots, garlic and pancetta. Sprinkle with a good pinch each of salt, freshly ground black pepper and dried/rubbed sage. Cook 5-7 minutes, until the shallots are translucent and everything is wonderfully flavorful. Scrape the mixture into the mixing bowl with the cauliflower; don't wash out the skillet.
To the mixing bowl, add the apple wedges, 2 oz of grated Gruyère, ricotta and milk-soaked bread. Toss gently until well-combined and pour out into an 8" or 9" square casserole dish. Sprinkle the remaining Gruyère on top. Cover with a sheet of foil (I sprayed mine with non-stick cooking spray to avoid the cheese sticking to it) and slide into the heated oven. Cook 15 minutes.
While that's cooking, make the toasted breadcrumbs. In the 10" skillet you already used but didn't wash out, heat the remaining tablespoon of butter over medium. When it's melted, add the breadcrumbs and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt, pepper and dried/rubbed sage. Grate some fresh nutmeg into the mix (about 1/8 - 1/4 tsp) and toss until the breadcrumbs are golden brown and fragrant.
When the casserole has baked for 15 minutes, carefully remove it from the oven. Peel back the foil and sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the top. Replace the foil and bake 25 minutes. Remove the foil, and bake another 5 minutes. Serve.