Cauliflower Custard with Toasted Garlic Pepitas
(Note: This post appears courtesy of Food Junta, and also appears on their blog)
I used to think that cauliflower was just this kind of bland, white vegetable that my mom would serve occasionally and I’d have to eat. And she’d serve it with this really delicious mix of soy sauce and mayo (really, try it), and so it was okay. But just okay.
And then, the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, my dad took our family to the French Laundry for lunch as a send-off into my last year of being at home and a good luck with college apps and all of that jazz celebration. And, after making the reservation the requisite two months ahead of time, and driving out there, and having a ten-course meal or whatever it is, the one thing I remember (besides the “coffee and donuts“) is the cauliflower panna cotta. It was sweet but savory, creamy, rich…in short, revelatory. Now maybe anything is good if you mix it with enough cream and egg (and, if you are the French Laundry, top it with Beluga caviar). But when the YSFP said they had an abundance of cauliflower in the farm, I thought it was worth a shot at recreation.
Basically, cauliflower — more than perhaps any other vegetable (excluding potatoes) — loves butter, cream, eggs, and cheese. It loves them a lot. Its mellow flavor actually also loves (or so I hear) such delicacies as white truffle and the aforementioned caviar. But we’re not really in that price bracket here, and if we (I) were, I probably wouldn’t be experimenting with throwing those around on caviar, at least not my first time through. Based on how delicious this dish was, though, I might be inclined next time.
This Cauliflower Custard (not the most appetizing name, I know) is not, in fact, the French Laundry recipe. French Laundry recipes are notoriously difficult — that’s why you’re reserving two months ahead to eat there! This is a recipe from the Los Angeles Times, and a very good one at that. It’s going to require you to whip out your food processor (and rinse it mid-way), but overall, I found it a very leisurely dish to make. It helped that I was only responsible for this one dish, with my guests bringing a roast chicken, a delicious salad, and Belgian champagne beer (yum). And also really easy is the yummy, crunchalicious topping that provides not only a perfect flavor counterpart, but, more importantly, a textural counterpart. I added the pepitas to the mix of breadcrumbs and garlic, because it is autumn and it is getting cold and pumpkin beer is showing up in bars everywhere, so why not add pepitas? And they were perfect.
It’s funny — a “side” dish like this one really becomes the star of the meal, and rightly so. Even the chicken here takes a backseat. So, rediscover cauliflower. I promise you, it’s one sexy vegetable.
Cauliflower Custard with Toasted Garlic Pepitas
(Adapted from the Los Angeles Times)
Makes 5-6 servings, depending on size of custards
– 14 ounces (about 4 cups) cauliflower florets
– 1 ¼ cups heavy cream
– 4 eggs
– 1 teaspoon salt
– Freshly grated nutmeg
– 3 cloves garlic
– 2 tablespoons butter, divided
– ½ cup fresh baguette crumbs (instructions below)
– ¼ cup roasted, salted pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
1. Steam the cauliflower over high heat until quite tender, 7 to 10 minutes. When it’s done, you should be able to crush a floret between your fingers. Undercooking the cauliflower will make the custard grainy. (This recipe warns several times against the custard coming out grainy; I did my best to follow the instructions, but I wasn’t too concerned about it, and mine came out perfectly smooth. So don’t stress.) Remove the cauliflower from the heat and let it cool for 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, make the fresh bread crumbs. Recipes for bread crumbs always have you just use the white fluffy part of a baguette, cutting away the crusts. But I quickly got frustrated with that technique, for one thing because it was super-annoying and for another because I was going to use up the whole baguette that way. Plus, I thought it would be nice to use the crusts for a more rustic look/taste/texture. So, ultimately I just cut up a chunk of baguette and put it in the food processor, crusts and all. And after about a minute or two, I had perfectly usable breadcrumbs. Now, maybe this will ultimately destroy my food processor – I’m not sure. That’s the only downside I can see, though (a big one, but not one that will immediately affect this dish).
3. Transfer bread crumbs to a bowl and give the food processor a quick rinse. Transfer the cauliflower to a food processor and pulse several times to grind. Add the heavy cream and purée until fairly smooth but with tiny pieces of cauliflower still evident. Pulse in the eggs, salt, and nutmeg (just eye it – you can give it a good shake, probably ¼ to ½ tsp).
3. Strain the mixture into a bowl. Stir the purée with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to help it flow through the strainer, but do not press it; this will also make the custard grainy (again with the graininess – I had to stir pretty vigorously to get any through, but there was still a clear stopping point, pictured). Divide the strained purée evenly among 5 ten ounce or 6 half-cup ovenproof ramekins. The original recipe says to discard the cauliflower remaining in the strainer, but I saved it in a Tupperware and plan on frying it for a little supper (cauliflower + cream + eggs = delicious light supper, right?).
4. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Arrange the ramekins in a large roasting pan and place the roasting pan in the oven. Pour boiling water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake in the water bath until the center of the custard just barely jiggles when the pan is shaken, 35 to 40 minutes for half-cup ramekins, a few minutes longer for 10 ounce servings.
5. The topping takes about 5 minutes to prepare, so start it up when the custard is almost done. Mince the garlic. Heat a small sauté pan and melt butter. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or so until beginning to get fragrant. Add bread crumbs, cook for a minute or so until beginning to toast. Add pepitas, cook whole thing until garlic is golden, bread crumbs are golden, and pepitas are nicely toasted. Remove from the heat and set aside.
6. When the custards are cooked, remove them from the water bath and let them stand at room temperature for 10 minutes to set. Sprinkle the bread crumb/garlic/pepita mixture evenly over the 5-6 ramekins. Serve immediately.