The two of us have had a slight fixation with cheese ever since we attended the Connecticut Cheese Festival a few weeks back. We have been meaning to tell you about that, and we promise we'll get to it, but for now, we want to share our latest cheese-inspired appetizer creation - Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Grana Padano Dipping Sauce.
When we learned about the Legends from Europe Market Basket Recipe Contest, we jumped at the chance to use one of these outstanding ingredients in a recipe. There are five "Legends from Europe," and they are Grana Padano, Parmigiano Reggiano, Montasio, Prosciutto di Parma and Prosciutto di San Daniele, all of which are part of a special campaign to celebrate the legendary quality, tradition and taste of these world-renowned products. We were told to email the contest administrators and we would be assigned one of these incredible cheeses or hams, then we were to create and post our recipe to our blog to be entered into the contest.
We were ecstatic to be assigned Grana Padano, one of the world's first hard cheeses, and one of Italy's most famous. It is named after its distinctively grainy texture (grana, Italian for "grain"), and its region of origin, the Pianura Padana, or the Po Valley in Northern Italy. It is a hard cheese that is cooked and ripened slowly, it can last a long time without spoiling, and its DOP (protected designation of origin) status can be verified by the fire-branded trademark on the rind. It has a mildly nutty flavor, more subtle and less salty than its cousin, Parmigiano, which is actually a type of Grana, as that name refers specifically to the texture of the cheese.
We had in mind a beautiful head of cauliflower, simmered in a lemony-herb broth, then slow-roasted, with a creamy dip made from the Grana Padano. And we think we succeeded. The cauliflower tasted as wonderful as it looked, with the olive oil and butter from the broth clinging to it enough to facilitate the browning. And the cheese sauce was so scrumptious in its simplicity - milk, cream, plenty of grated Grana Padano, salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg - that we began to look around for other things to dip into what was left after we conquered the cauliflower (we found Italian bread and baby carrots worked nicely). We served the cauliflower whole on a cutting board with the dipping sauce nearby, and we all oohhed and aahhed over the flavor imparted by this special, legendary cheese.
Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Grana Padano Dipping Sauce
1 whole head of cauliflower
6 cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 large bay leaf
rind from one lemon
3/4 cup light cream
1 cup whole milk
pinch of ground nutmeg
2 cups grated Grana Padano cheese
kosher salt and white pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 475 degrees F. In a pot large enough to fit the cauliflower, bring to boil the water, olive oil, butter, bay leaf and lemon rind. Submerge the cauliflower top down into the pot, reduce heat, cover and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from pot and place on a baking sheet or roasting pan. Roast cauliflower for 30-45 minutes, until tender and nicely browned. In the meantime, make the dipping sauce by bringing to a boil the cream, milk and nutmeg. Remove cream mixture from heat and stir in the cheese until well incorporated. Add salt and white pepper to taste and serve alongside roasted cauliflower as the start to a wonderful meal.