Sunday, November 14, 2010
Kitchen Sink Style: Cauliflower Pasta and Pudding Cakes
I am not an intuitive baker, at least not since my diagnosis. By that I mean I don't quite have some people's knack of putting together various gluten-free flours to give a certain characteristic to a certain sort of baked goods - I suspect this comes with practice in the kitchen and a lot of reading up on each of the flours (tapioca, sorghum, millet, buckwheat etc.) and what characteristics they have as individual flours, before I can throw them together with any sort of abandon.
Funnily enough, the opposite is true for my cooking. Give me a set of flavours or tell me what you want in a dish and I can pretty much put it together in my head and figure something out. Granted, it took a while before I stopped just throwing stuff together and began finally analyzing ingredients and flavours properly whenever I combined them into some dish or other.
So there's probably a touch of lurking amusement in the fact that I decided to cook two things on the same day that showcased these two opposite sides of the pole.
I've been wanting to make Aran's pear, hazelnut and brown butter cakelets for a while now since reading her glorious recipe. Since I had an entire afternoon free, I decided why not, put together all the ingredients, and went ahead.
I realised belatedly into the flour-combining process that I'd inexplicably misplaced my cinnamon. Three rounds of searching didn't turn it up so I did the next best thing - I yanked out my trusty mortar, half a cinnamon stick and pounded away. I managed to get the required teaspoon of ground cinnamon out of that (yes, that's the mortar and half-ground cinnamon stick up there in the photo.)
From there on everything went nicely - until I had to strain the melted brown butter as the recipe called for. I had a strainer, a cheap plastic affair that's lasted me about 3 years and probably would have lasted a few more years of careful usage. The operative word in that sentence is 'had'. Because when I poured the hot butter into the strainer, it promptly melted the plastic netting and I only just got the wretched thing into the sink before it decided to melt into the butter proper.
Now if I'd been a proper baker and all, I'd have remembered that hot oil melts plastic and hot butter is hot oil.
But the butter was saved, that's the important thing, because I didn't have any more in the fridge and that'd have been a total waste of good butter if I'd had to throw it away due to my own high-class stupidity.
Making the brown butter left me with a saucepan bottom full of brown milk solids, and when it had cooled enough for me to poke a finger into them, I realised they were quite salty. I didn't quite want to throw them away though.
So I decided to save them. And use them for Sicilian cauliflower pasta afterwards.
(It's all part of what I call a Victorian Kitchen Sink mentality, in honour of Agatha Christie's Jane Marple. She saw the mind as a kitchen sink - you throw everything into it whether it's tasteful or not, and it's an utterly necessary piece of equipment. In my twisted culinary world, that means I throw into my cooking anything I have on hand - just like putting everything into a sink. Improvisation is usually indicated.)
The logic behind this rather incredibly fattening idea was that the salty browned milk solids would take the place of the anchovies I'd seen in the recipes for Sicilian cauliflower pasta that I'd looked up before. The version I knew was one I'd been using since college days that didn't include anchovies at all, and which I couldn't find any more (given it's been about ten-odd years since I printed that recipe, it might well have gone the way of obsolete web pages.)
But back to the cakes.
By the time I'd mixed up the ingredients (having substituted honey for maple syrup since I didn't have any at hand), I'd begun to have a feeling that perhaps the batter needed to be just a tad more moist as the consistency was now rather muffin-like and thick. I divided the batter into muffin tins anyway, and realised I still had enough for another twelve cakes - so I added a little water to the remaining batter to moisten it up. Call it an experiment.
Well. The first batch came out moist and rather puddingy, and required about ten minutes more baking time. Since I hadn't smoothed down the tops of these muffins, they were about as lumpy as a boulder-strewn highway since they didn't settle as I thought they might.
Batch two got its tops smoothed down properly, rose beautifully and...came out exactly like pudding - nice outside, very soft and mushy insides. It probably required a bit more baking, but because I was hot and lazy, I left them to cool anyway. They tasted fantastic and were still more than passably edible so I'll just consider them pudding-cakes for now and eat less of them since they're rather filling.
Once baking was done, I got started on the cauliflower pasta - boiling the cauliflower till soft, boiling the pasta in the cauliflower water, frying up the cauliflower with garlic and chopped Chinese chives till slightly brown.
The original recipe called for onions. I hate chopping onions because they make me cry, and I had a few too many stalks of Chinese chives at hand - and those taste a lot like onions anyway, so I used 'em in typical kitchen sink style and put in the brown butter solids when the time was right. To be honest, I have no idea whether or not that had any effect on the taste of the cauliflower because I still wound up having to add salt anyway. It did use the butter solids up rather than wasting them though.
The dish tasted rather plain when I finished with it. Not quite like I'd remembered. And then I recalled reading somewhere (it might very well have been Frances Mayes, I'm not sure any more) that a slight drizzle of olive oil over warm food would improve the taste, so I went ahead and did that.
Just that bit of olive oil transformed the entire dish of pasta into something absolutely incredible. It blended all the flavours together into something subtly fragrant and creamy, and utterly addictive - just how I remembered it from college, and just what I needed to round off the day.
Victorian Sink Style Sicilian Cauliflower Pasta
Adapted from a basic Sicilian Cauliflower Pasta recipe that I can’t find anymore
Servings: 2 people, or 1 small eater who'll have lots of leftovers
1 head cauliflower
4-5 cloves garlic, smashed
2-3 stalks finely sliced green onions or Chinese chives
Uncooked gluten-free pasta (spaghetti, vermicelli, rotelle or fusili work fine)
Brown butter solids (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Preparing the cauliflower and pasta:
Cut the cauliflower into quarters or fifths – whatever fits a medium-size, heavy saucepan nicely. Barely cover with water – you want to have most of the florets submerged if you can, but just a few bits poking out here and there are fine. Bring to boil, and keep boiling half-covered for however long it takes for the cauliflower to become soft enough to be detached easily with a fork.
Using a slotted spoon, drain the cauliflower well and set it aside. You want to save the water that the cauliflower was boiled in; you’ll use this to cook your pasta.
Top up the cauliflower water, as there’s going to be a lot less in there than when you started. Bring to boil, salt the water well, and put in the pasta. Cook until al dente. Drain the pasta and set aside.
Cooking the cauliflower:
In a medium or large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat, drizzle about a teaspoon of olive oil to heat for about 30 seconds. Throw in the garlic and fry until the bottoms of the garlic are just a little brown, not completely browned through. Add in the green onions or Chinese chives and fry for about a minute or until soft. Add in the drained cauliflower and mash with cooking spatula as it cooks; it will brown a bit and that’s what you want. If you have brown butter solids, add them in now and stir to combine with the cauliflower. Add salt and pepper to taste – make sure you add sufficient salt or the cauliflower will be very bland.
Fry for a while more until the cauliflower takes on a slightly brownish colour. Turn off the fire and add the cooked pasta, combining it well with the cauliflower mash. Add a further drizzle of olive oil and stir into the cauliflower-pasta mix – this is the step that makes all the difference in the final taste of the pasta.