A photo essay
On a whim, I picked up some romanesco (broccoli or cauliflower, depending on who you ask) at the farmer’s market last week, largely because it’s visually interesting.
Once Matt and I got home, I hit the web in search of recipes featuring romanesco, and came up with a Jamie Oliver recipe for baked stuffed pasta. Now, I don’t know about you, but around here, we don’t stuff pasta. Too. Much. Work. We do, however, love Jamie Oliver, who is also responsible for my favorite bean dish, so I decided to give the recipe a shot, substituting whatever pasta we had on hand (happened to be orecchetti and elbow macaroni) for the pasta shells. And that’s what we did, and it was delicious.
It was also time-consuming. The recipe calls for boiling the veggies, and then pan-cooking them for an additional 20 minutes, as “overcooking the vegetables not only intensifies their flavor but gives you the texture that you need for this recipe.” What I didn’t realize until halfway though the 20 minutes of additional cooking was that the “texture” to which Jamie Oliver refers is mashed — this is a pasta stuffing. Dur.
Thing is, though, I wasn’t making stuffed pasta. So the texture part is irrelevant to me. And there’s a much easier way to intensify flavors that doesn’t involve multiple steps (or multiple pans) — roasting.
Armed with this new plan, Matt and I bought more romanesco at the farmer’s market today. After chopping,
I mixed up some olive oil flavored with garlic, anchovies, thyme, and chili powder (hey, I was dubious the first time, too, but it was Jamie Oliver’s idea, and he usually has good ones), coated the florets with the oil, and popped them in the oven to roast.
While the veggies roasted, I cooked the pasta and whipped up a white sauce. The recipe calls for mixing creme fraiche with cheese and a bit of water to make “a really quick and easy white sauce.” Creme fraiche is relatively difficult to find around here (and is pretty expensive, to boot), so after some discussion, Matt and I settled on a substitute — Mornay sauce made with buttermilk. We figured buttermilk would add the tang you’d otherwise get from creme fraiche, and Mornay sauce is just a BÃ©chemel (white sauce) with cheese. Et voilÃ !
Although not super-quick, our solution has the advantage of being super-cheap, since we got a carton of buttermilk for $2, and we made two batches of sauce with it. I grated the cheese first (about half a cup of Parmesan, and I use the good stuff exclusively),
then started the sauce with about a tablespoon of butter
and added about a tablespoon of flour to make a roux.
After a few minutes of cooking (to eliminate the raw flour taste), I added two cups of buttermilk.
After that, it’s whisk, whisk, whisk, and then whisk some more. It takes about ten minutes for the sauce to thicken up.
(Using the olive wood whisk you bought in Paris is recommended, but not required.)
When the sauce thickens up, the heat goes down, the cheese goes in, and there’s more whisking to combine and melt the cheese.
Sauce made, it’s time to assemble the casserole. First up is a can of tomato sauce.
Next in is the mixture of pasta and romanesco, topped with a layer of basil.
The Mornay sauce goes on top,
followed by a layer of mozzarella and a wee bit more Parm,
and then it’s into the oven for you, my tasty! (350 ° for about 30 minutes; I had to put it under the broiler for a few to brown the cheese)
And what was Matt doing while I was doing all this cooking, you ask?