Many people I know who hate beets, for instance, once had them mushy out of the can but have been swayed by a proper roasting that leaves the root vegetable barely tender, potentially leading to, say, a beet and citrus salad dressed with a hazelnut vinaigrette.
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 sulfurous stench into the air like some sort of diffuser gone bad. It put me off cabbage until my early adulthood, when I learned to cook it right — I’m an ardent fan of roasting — and have grown to adore it.
I’ve never shared Jim’s visceral reaction to cauliflower, and in fact can’t imagine enjoying my plant-based way of eating without it: I roast it, whole or in pieces. I fry it, breaded or not. I “rice” it, not because I don’t want to eat rice but because I do want to eat cauliflower. I’ve joined the club of low-carb fanatics (even though I am no such thing) who turn it into pizza crust, or perhaps I should say “pizza crust.” I’ve even pickled it, using recipes similar to the one Jim wrote about as the only way he can stand it. (Coincidentally, I feel the same way about pickling and raisins.)
But pickling doesn’t require cooking, which is a bit of a dodge, isn’t it? At least it seemed so to me when I considered ways to appeal to the cauliflower-averse.
Instead, 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.” Chesnakova has you bake the vegetable with three types of cheese but also a decent amount of Madras curry powder — along with farro for heft (and nutrition). I stirred in some white beans for an extra dose of protein and lemon juice to offset some of the richness of the 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. Similarly, when it baked, cloaked in ricotta, fontina and Parmesan and under a blanket of seasoned breadcrumbs, I thought it smelled divine — and tasted so, too. But then again, I’m biased.
Would it be enough to bring around a hater? There’s only one way to find out.
Make Ahead: The cooked farro can be cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days. The assembled, unbaked dish can be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 day or frozen for up to 3 months. Defrost before baking.
Storage Notes: Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 3 months.
- 1 cup (7 ounces) farro
- 1 medium head cauliflower (2 pounds)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 large red onion (12 ounces), chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Madras curry powder
- 1 teaspoon fennel or cumin seeds, crushed
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 1/2 cups cooked or canned no-salt-added cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 cups (6 ounces) grated fontina cheese (may substitute mozzarella)
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces) whole-milk ricotta (may substitute low-fat)
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese, divided
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
In a large saucepan, combine the farro with enough water to cover by 2 inches, and bring to a boil. Cook until al dente, 25 to 30 minutes. Drain.
While the farro is cooking, cut the cauliflower into 1/2-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 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the onion, garlic and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the curry and fennel and cook until fragrant, about 1 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, 7 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the drained farro, beans, fontina, ricotta, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan, lemon juice and zest. Taste, and add more salt, if needed. Transfer the mixture to a 9-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 1 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 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Calories: 486; Total Fat: 20 g; Saturated Fat: 9 g; Cholesterol: 51 mg; Sodium: 665 mg; Carbohydrates: 53 g; Dietary Fiber: 9 g; Sugar: 6 g; Protein: 25 g.