Friday, December 30, 2011

2 Recipe #300: Cauliflower & Orange Bell Peppers Au Gratin

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Yay, this recipe blog has finally reached recipe #300! At some point, I'll probably do something here to celebrate that, but right now, I'm just going to quickly post the below recipe and then I've got to skedaddle.

Before I go, just a few quick notes: This recipe is a change-up from the classic cauliflower au gratin dish. First of all, it's much healthier, as it doesn't contain any butter or cream, and yet, it's still incredibly flavorful and vibrant. In place of the traditional béchamel sauce is an equally tasty but much less fattening sauce, made with mozzarella, parmesan, buttermilk, spices, and fresh herbs. The fresh herbs are a key component of this recipe, as they are the lynch pin that brings together all of the other flavors. So, in other words, this is one instance in which you shouldn't substitute dried for fresh. :) Fresh herbs are an easy and inexpensive way to make a huge impact in terms of quality and taste, and using them in this particular recipe will make all the difference to its final outcome. :)

Have fun making the recipe, and I hope you are all enjoying the holiday season!

Happy Holidays,

Cauliflower & Orange Bell Peppers Au Gratin

1 large head cauliflower (about 3 lbs.), cut into bite-sized florets (makes about 10 c.)
2 heaping c. orange bell pepper, de-stemmed, de-ribbed, seeded, and diced into 1" cubes (about 1 large pepper)*
1/2 c. scallions (green and white parts), sliced crosswise into 1/4"-thick rounds, densely packed (about 1 small bunch)
1/4 c. curly-leaf parsley, finely minced and densely packed
2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, finely minced & densely packed
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, densely packed
1 Tbsp. fresh sage, julienned and densely packed
2 c. part-skim (low-fat) mozzarella, shredded
1 1/2 c. fresh Parmesan cheese, shredded
1 c. nonfat (or low-fat) buttermilk
3/8 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste
1/4 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

Directions: Place cauliflower florets into an 11" x 17" (x 2 1/2") aluminum foil pan, followed by the orange bell pepper, scallions, and fresh herbs. Spread out ingredients across the pan, making sure they aren't on top of one another, so they'll cook evenly. Set aside. Next, in a large mixing bowl, thoroughly mix together mozzarella, Parmesan, and buttermilk in a large mixing bowl until well-combined. Using your hands or a spatula, evenly distribute the cheese mixture across the vegetables. Finally, add salt, pepper, and; nutmeg, sprinkling them from a distance to evenly distribute. Cover with a large sheet of aluminum foil and bake in a 375°F preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until just tender. Then uncover and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes or more, until top is golden brown. Serve and enjoy.

Yield: 10-12 servings as a side dish; 5-6 servings as a main course.

Chef's Notes: *Instead of just using orange bell pepper, you could substitute yellow or red bell pepper, or use a combination of all three. I personally wouldn't recommend using green pepper, because it's a bit too bitter to be used in this particular recipe. This dish needs a touch of natural sweetness from the orange/yellow/red peppers to balance out the sharpness of the other flavors -- namely the rosemary and other fresh herbs.

Optional Ingredients: As a final step before placing the dish into the oven, you could also sprinkle it with plain bread crumbs, if you so desire. For ready-made bread crumbs, you can use a store-bought variety like panko (i.e., Japanese bread crumbs) or the plain/unflavored, store-bought variety that comes in a canister or a box. Or, alternatively, you can easily make them yourself by pulverizing leftover, stale bread in a food processor.

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