Cheesy and curried, this cauliflower bake might just turn around the haters

Joe Yonan

THE WASHINGTON POST – Sometimes when someone tells you they hate a particular food that you love, do you ever think, “I bet I could change your mind”? Often, of course, their resistance goes way back to childhood, seeming immovable and maybe even illogical. But sometimes you can make sense of the issue with some gentle questioning and formulate a theory for how it might be overcome.

With some vegetables in the brassica family, the culprit is often the smell during cooking. My colleague Jim Webster’s recent comical rant about cauliflower reminded me of my childhood feelings about cabbage when my mother would boil it, sending its sulphurous stench into the air like some sort of diffuser gone bad.

I thought about employing a sharp cheese, along with other ingredients that might help distract from the smell of cauliflower cooking. I found the answer in a recipe in Polina Chesnakova’s 2020 book, Hot Cheese.

You cook the cauliflower briefly with aromatics and spices on the stove top first, and sure enough, when I did, the aroma wafting up from the pan was anything but sulfury.

Curried Cauliflower. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

CURRIED CAULIFLOWER AND FARRO BAKE

INGREDIENTS

One cup farro

One medium head cauliflower

Two tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

One large red onion, chopped

Three garlic cloves, thinly sliced

Half teaspoon fine sea salt

One-and-a-half tablespoons Madras curry powder

One teaspoon fennel or cumin seeds

Half cup water

One-and-a-half cups cooked or canned no-salt-added cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Two cups grated fontina cheese (may substitute mozzarella)

Half cup whole-milk ricotta

Half cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Two tablespoons fresh lemon juice

One tablespoon finely grated lemon zest

Half cup panko breadcrumbs

Two tablespoons chopped parsley

DIRECTIONS

In a large saucepan, combine the farro with enough water to cover by two inches, and bring to a boil. Cook until al dente, 25 to 30 minutes. Drain.

While the farro is cooking, cut the cauliflower into half-inch slices, leaves and stems included. Use your hands to break the cauliflower into smaller florets. Thinly slice the stems and leaves, and cut them further into bite-size pieces if needed.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.

In a deep, 12-inch ovenproof skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat, heat one tablespoon of the oil. Add the onion, garlic and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens, four to five minutes. Stir in the curry and fennel and cook until fragrant, about one minute. Add the cauliflower and water, and using a large spatula, gently toss with the onion mixture until the cauliflower is fully coated. Cook, stirring frequently, until the cauliflower loses its raw bite, seven to eight minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the drained farro, beans, fontina, ricotta, quarter cup of the Parmesan, lemon juice and zest. Taste, and add more salt, if needed. Transfer the mixture to a nine-by-13-inch casserole dish, if desired, or return it to the skillet for baking.

In a small bowl, mix the panko with the parsley, the remaining Parmesan and remaining one tablespoon of oil until the panko is saturated. Sprinkle over the cauliflower and farro. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until the panko is browned and crisp and the cauliflower is tender. Cool for five to 10 minutes before serving.