Tarnation, I just don’t know what happens to the time! The last few weeks veritably flew by in a blurry haze. I spent considerable portions of last week (whenever I found a moment that is) wondering just what happened to the month of December. The final month of the year was thankfully – wonderfully even – by far the best month of a year that I am frankly in a hurry to forget as quickly as possible. . . but it did go by in quite a flurry.
The culinary highlights of last month include my most successful Holiday Baking Issue Ever (maybe it was just my good mood; maybe it was because I stuck for the most part to the old standbys, cookies I’ve made enough times to have tweaked the recipes – with the exception of these, the new cookie of the year, which turned out better on a second batch where I used slightly less flour – but I could swear I hit a pretty good baking groove this year and got many grateful thank-you’s for my all-too-willing trouble.)
Side note: just proving that a little positive reinforcement goes a long way with me, tonight I kept on the baking roll by making these super-wonderful, completely superlative cookies (which I came across the recipe for too late in the game for the Holiday Baking) and am planning to dispatch most of them to my favorite friends and colleagues this week (that beginning-of-year meeting seemed a perfect opportunity to offload some home-baked goodness. There’s nothing like sitting in a chair all day to make you want to eat sweets.) These sweet-spicy-crunchy ginger cookies pretty much do everything I want a cookie to do and more!
Then of course there was Christmas at my sister’s in Cleveland, wherein all the crazy cooks in the family converged on one house and there was much deliciousness. We basically elbowed each other out of the way to take turns in the small kitchen and did dishes nonstop for days. The results were fantastic – my brother-in-law’s newest craze is home Charcuterie and his pancetta pretty much rocks. I got to use some left-over sausage filling for the base of some meat cannelloni, and so I can also attest to the rockingness of that sausage. Two kinds of Cannelloni (meat filling with béchamel; ricotta filling with marinara sauce) were for Christmas Eve. Christmas day began with my sister’s homemade pannetone and ended much later with a fantastic peach cobbler, with leftover cannelloni (lunch) an incredible grilled pork loin, collards from the garden with the fantastic pancetta, and au gratin potatoes to die for (dinner) in between.
Meantime there were dinners with friends (a choucroute garni extravaganza in Greenpoint comes to mind most notably), lunches and dinners with colleagues (oh, the Thai food we ate! Oh the German Riesling we drank with it!), a few dinner dates with a Very Nice Someone (one to my New Favorite Restaurant I can Actually Afford to Eat at Often, which is an offshoot of one of my other favorites as well as a long-overdue trip to Blue Ribbon for their super-great oysters – had it been a year?!) and a few too many late nights.
Whew, what a tear. After all that fun I am craving work, routine, and good sleep (aren’t we all?). But oddly enough, despite the couple of extra pounds that resulted from all that, I still find myself getting hungry at mealtimes. Usually I make up a big batch of Hoppin’ John for New Year’s day – it seems the perfect remedy to excess, being flavorful and comforting and virtuous all at the same time. This year I didn’t think ahead enough to get, let alone soak, the beans, but on the drive back from New Year’s Eve and Day in Vermont I mulled over dinner possibilities and settled on another dish that also falls in the Flavorful, Comforting, Virtous camp (subset: Pasta with Vegetables, about which John Thorne has a wonderful essay in his book Pot on the Fire): the dish I think of as My Special Orecchiette with Cauliflower Thing.
Oddly enough, Orecchiette with Cauliflower does not appear in either of the cookbooks which I consider the Canon of Italian Cooking (Marcella, natch, and also my new obsession: the Silver Spoon. What’s not to love about a book that features lettuce as a cooked vegetable (and where was this book when I had a garden full of lettuce those past couple of years?)). However a quick Google turns it up in many variations, so apparently I did not come up with it on my own, although I do not remember ever having seen a recipe. The flavor combination is just so perfect, though, that trial and error must eventually lead one in the right direction. There is also something perfect about the way the dimples in the orechiette hold the pieces of cauliflower, so I always use that shape of pasta (despite it’s being a little hard to eat neatly with a fork, but it isn’t a “company dish” so no matter). Discussion yesterday led me to cede that fusili might work, too, if you don’t have orechiette.
At any rate, this seemed like a perfect first dinner of the year with after a crazy month and a long car-ride home. Delicious, virtous, easy, and fast (you can wash the salad and do the chopping while waiting for the water to boil and from there it’s done in 15 minutes!).
Orechiette with Cauliflower
Half a box of Orechiette
1 good-sized head of cauliflower
3 cloves (or more if you like!) of garlic, minced
½ tsp whole cumin
generous pinch of red pepper flakes (to taste)
generous amounts of good olive oil
optional: anchovy fillets, pine nuts
salt, pepper, grated parmigiano (this dish is good with some romano mixed into the cheese, too.
Start by setting a pasta pot on the stove to boil. Preferably one with a steamer attachment on top (for some reason I prefer to steam rather than to boil the cauliflower; not sure why but that’s how I do it.).
Meanwhile cut up the cauliflower into little florettes (the smaller the quicker it will cook!) and mince the garlic. Once the water boils, throw the cauliflower in, or over (in the steamer basket) and cook until tender – 5 minutes or so – check it.
Pull the cauliflower out and set aside, then add the orechiette to the boiling water. On the side, generously coat a skillet with good olive oil and turn it on low. Throw in the garlic and cook gently (do not brown!); as it begins to bubble salt and sprinkle the cumin over (variation would be to add anchovy here, too). After 3 minutes, turn up the heat and throw the Cauliflower in, sprinkle with red pepper flakes, more salt, and pepper. When all the cauliflower is nicely warmed through and coated with oil, turn off heat. (variation would be to toss some toasted pine nuts in at this stage.)
Mix the cauliflower sauce with the orecchiette when they are ready; drizzle some more good olive oil over the dish before serving and serve with grated cheese on the side.
Happy New Year!