Considering how it used to be one of those pricey specialty vegetables that had to be trucked in from the Mountain Province once in a blue moon, we are currently experiencing an unusual glut of cauliflower in these parts. So much, in fact that you can see those fluffy white heads of cauliflower just about everywhere and not just at the supermarket: even sidewalk veg stalls have them and you can actually get a decent head of cauli for as low as P 20.00 (US$ 0.47).
Most Filipino families prepare caulis as part of a chop suey or just steamed and salted and peppered. And that, alas, is pretty much the full extent of cauliflower’s role in the Philippine diet. This is such a shame as cauliflower is a versatile ingredient: you can eat it raw in salads or as part of a plate of crudites for a party. You can boil it in broth and puree it with some milk for a rich, creamy soup. And, yes: you can mash it up like potatoes (or with potatoes, for that matter) to make a scrumptious side dish to go with roast meats or baked fish.
This weekend, I made use of the cauliflower glut to come up with a deliciously buttery and cheesy chou-fleur au gratin: essentially, cauliflower and potato puree baked with a crisp ham, cheese, and onion topping. If you love mashed potatoes, you’re going to adore this. The subtle vegetal flavor of the cauliflower adds an appealing dimension of taste to plain potatoes. On a nutritional side, it also adds extra nutrients to standard-issue mash. Oh, and it’s a great way to get picky kids to eat their vegetables!
Chou-fleur au Gratin
- 1 medium-sized head of cauliflower, leaves removed and cauliflower broken into florets
- 2 medium potatoes, peeled
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1/4 cup butter
- 2 – 3 tablespoons milk
- 1/2 cup grated cheese
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup finely chopped ham or bacon
Boil the cauliflower florets and the potatoes with salt in enough water with which to cover the veg until tender. Drain and keep warm.
Meanwhile, butter a 9-inch baking dish (a pie plate actually works fine here) and pre-heat your broiler to 350 degrees.
Using a potato masher or a ricer, mash the cauliflower and potatoes with the butter. Mix in the milk and whip until well-incorporated.
Evenly spread the pureed vegetables in the prepared pan. Scatter over the cheese, ham, and minced onion. Broil for 10 – 15 minutes till the topping crisps up. Serve immediately.
Serves 4 generously as a side dish.
Incidentally… Since broccoli is also in season, substitute it for the cauliflower. Also, if you don’t fancy plain mash or a gratin, you can form the mash into balls, roll them in panko and serve them up as croquettes.