Monday, January 5, 2009

Glorious Cauliflower & Penne Gratin

When the wind howls and the snow flies, I always find myself thinking back to the warmer days of autumn, when the farmer's market was still offering up its bounty, and the process of cooking was more about what was fresh and "in season" than what was left in the freezer.

This is one of those days. Well, kind of. The snow isn't exactly flying. But, things are pretty well iced over, and the wind is blowing briskly enough to make 20ยบ feel somewhere below zero.

Fortunately, I was rummaging through some old photos, and I happened upon a few great finds from early November.

On this particular Saturday, we were lucky enough to find some gorgeous petite heads of cheddar (orange) and purple cauliflower. I picked them up for color alone, but deep down, I also knew that these babies pack a nutritional punch. The cheddar cauliflower, which originally hails from Canada, contains at least 25% more Vitamin A than your typical, garden-variety, white cauliflower. Meanwhile, the purple variety gets its color from the same antioxidant that gives red wine its color and added health bennies. Pretty impressive.Anyhow, I'd run across a recipe for a baked penne dish with Comte cheese and creme fraiche in a recent Bon Appetit magazine, and I thought I'd give the concept a go. Since we're such fans of cauliflower in its roasted form, I figured we'd go that route, rather than steaming it.
Since fresh tomatoes were long gone, I also opted for mixing in a small can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes, which I figured would add an additional layer of flavor. Some green onions also served to add a bit of bite.
Combine the veg with a creamy cheese sauce made with Harvest Moon Cheddar from Castle Rock Farms (a great little organic dairy in Osseo, WI), a bit of Wisconsin parmesan, and a healthy dollop of creme fraiche, and the dish began to take shape.
After baking for about 35 minutes, the top was crusty and golden, and the cheese was getting bubbly... just the way we like it.
A quick spoon into the casserole assured me that this was a winner. Not only was it colorful, but it was tasty too. The creaminess of the tangy creme fraiche paired nicely with the cheddar, and together it really complemented the nuttiness of the squash.
Combined with a nice green salad, this made a hearty main course perfectly fit for a brisk autumn day. Heck, even with the plain old white cauliflower in the middle of January, this would make a nice vegetarian main course.

Cheesy Baked Penne with Roasted Cauliflower and Creme Fraiche

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  1. Wow, I've never seen cauliflower that looked like sherbet ice cream before! Yes, I'm a fan of the roasted version as well. Your casserole looks amazing and I loved all your nutrition information.

  2. That looks absolutely fabulous...i mean wow, what a treat!

  3. WOW what beautiful colors! I learned something today, I never knew these other cauliflower existed!

  4. That looks delicious as well as pretty. I never eat cauliflower unless it's roasted, but I love it that way. It would be awesome with some nice pasta and cheese. Woo hoo!

  5. That looks delicious. You've been a great source of recipes lately! I'm making the roasted pork with apples with weekend.

  6. This crazy hybrid cauliflower is like a cartoon for my mouth. I can't imagine a gratin that looks like fruit loops! Crazy cauliflower.

  7. I love the purple cauliflower! This sounds delicious.

  8. Whoa .... I've never seen colorful cauliflower before! These look totally awesome! I fear I would eat an entire roasted pan of this stuff. I really like this veggie, especially pan or oven roasted. YUM, YUM, YUM!


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