“Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.” -Legendary American author, pistol, troubled entrepreneur, and avid traveller Mark Twain
I am ceaselessly amazed at the way that new culinary adventures never stop coming.
The minute I discover a new technique, there are 50 ways to use it lining up in formation, patiently waiting their turn. At the same moment I have my eyes opened to an ingredient I’d never heard of before, a new way of interpreting a classic writes itself out on a torn piece of used napkin. I eat something wonderful and inspiring at a restaurant…..I start to mentally dissect it down into un-mysterious and digestable parts.
One of the loveliest paths that the food-inclined might follow is to just wander aimlessly among the baskillions of different ethnic cuisines that color our planet. You get to learn new flavors and new old cultural traditions; you get to learn new words and new ways of intersecting historical lines. You begin to step back and see a rhizomatic web where your dinner table is re-purposed as a supporting node among countless others. I love going down this road because at some point it really clicked for me that there’s a formula and a rhythm to all of this cooking stuff. I started to literally think of the world of gastronomy as the tie that binds us all as human beings.
We’ve all probably eaten the food of far more countries than we will ever set foot in physically. (This is an unfair policy. I think I should earn a free plane ticket to Corfu for every 25 Greek salads consumed. You know, like a punch-card system.) From my dinner plate I’ve gone to Morocco, Vietnam, Argentina, Louisiana…..but the cuisine I never saw coming was Polish.
Polish food came into my life at a time when I needed it most. Comforting, beautiful, and waywardly reminiscent of my Grandmother’s Austrian-by-way-of-Pittsburgh fare. It’s the kind of food that you wish you had thought of first because it’s so beautifully simple, so naturally elegant. It’s beautiful and colorful and down-to-Earth and fresh…..and it sticks to your ribs. It stuck to my heart, too. The mister’s mother has never made an un-amazing table of food in the decade I’ve known her. And though Polish cuisine is at the center of it all, she’s made me curious about learning more about food in general and has tipped me off to some of the best purveyors I know. She’s opinionated, she’s picky, and she’s pretty much always right, too. (A great example: She shrugs off the “mozzarella lady” at Eataly, insisting that the best fresh mozzarella in New York comes from Costco. She’s 100% accurate, by the way.)
I can’t speak any Polish and I sure can’t read it, either – but I can learn to cook the language just fine. I bought this super-amazing cookbook awhile back called Polish Heritage Cookery. It’s an extensive collection of literally thousands of Polish recipes written specifically in English for Americans. It’s fantastic for the simple, colloquial manner in which the recipes are all written: no ingredient lists, no numbered instructions, no formal yields. Just a bunch of small paragraphs with sentences that read something like “Add 1/2 cup of X to 1/4 cup of Y. Stir in a pinch of Z. Bake until golden brown.” It’s brilliant because if you know a little bit about what you’re doing, there aren’t a lot of rules to follow. You can make it your own. The book feels familiar. You can recognize the methods immediately, and you can play with them a little bit.
I don’t know why this recipe in particular stuck out to me. It just sounded really good, and I knew right away how to make it mine without compromising its character….I knew how to get it right on the first try. A lot of people don’t really give a second thought to cauliflower. It can be kind of bland and lifeless and white and boring, I know, but with the right execution it can elicit real, honest ‘mmmmms.’ This recipe seems to just focus on a few simple hard-and-fast rules: food is always better wrapped in pastry (in this case a unique sour cream-tinged one), vegetables are better with cheese and eggs, and fresh herbs are absolutely essential. Yet, it does these things in a way that I would’ve probably never thought of on my own. Polish food. I never saw it coming. But now that it’s here, I hope it never leaves.
For the pastry:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. butter, cut into cubes roughly 1/4″ in size, and reserved in the refrigerator to keep very cold
2 tbsp. sour cream (NOTE: Full fat best, reduced fat ok, fat free boo.)
For the filling:
1 medium head cauliflower (about 1 1/2 lbs.), trimmed, cut into florets, and rinsed well in a colander
1 1/2 tbsp. butter
1 1/2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup milk, plus a bit more if necessary (NOTE: Full fat best, 2% totally do-able, skim boo.)
Pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. sweet paprika
2 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp. plain breadcrumbs
2 tbsp. grated edam cheese (NOTE: Any mild, melty cows’ milk cheese will do.)
Big handful fresh dill leaves, washed, dried well, and chopped fine
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
Egg wash or melted, cooled butter for brushing pastry
Garnish ideas: Finely chopped parsley (as shown), a dollop of sour cream, a dollop of farmer cheese, a sprig of dill
1. Preheat oven to 400ºF, making sure there is a rack in the center position.
2. Add flour to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the dough blade. Sprinkle the butter cubes evenly around the flour and pulse until the butter is the size of small peas and the mixture resembles coarse sand. Add the sour cream, egg, sugar, and salt, and pulse again until the mixture just comes together into a ball. Turn out onto a piece of plastic wrap and wrap tightly. Place in the refrigerator to rest for at least 10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, bring a medium saucepan full of water to a boil over high heat. Prepare a large bowl of icy water and have it ready on the side. When the water reaches a rapid boil, add a small handful of kosher salt. Add the cauliflower florets and boil until just fork tender. (In other words, we don’t want mush. We want them still to have a bit of bite to them.) Using a slotted spoon or spider, transfer immediately to the bowl of ice water to shock them, and then transfer the florets to a large mixing bowl. Reserve at room temperature while you prepare the sauce and filling.
4. Melt the butter in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. When the foam subsides, add the flour and whisk together continuously for about 1 minute. Add the milk and continue whisking until the mixture begins to bubble. If the sauce seems thick (aka not pourable), add more milk, about 1/4 cup at a time, until it’s just pourable. Add a nutmeg, cayenne pepper, and paprika. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the cauliflower florets and allow to cool to room temperature. Add the beaten eggs, breadcrumbs, cheese, and dill. Stir to combine well with a rubber spatula. Set aside.
5. Prepare a loaf pan with butter or a light, even coating of non-stick cooking spray. Set aside. Next, roll out the dough. Lightly flour a clean work surface. Remove the dough from the plastic and roll out until it’s even and thin enough to fit between the tines of a fork. Carefully transfer the dough to the loaf pan and, working gently, form the dough into the loaf pan, getting it all the way into the corners. Trim off any excess at the lip of the pan. You should have enough left over to make the top layer. Re-wrap the extra dough and place back in the fridge. Dock the pastry with a fork and place in the oven to par-bake for 10 minutes, or until it barely begins to turn golden. Remove and allow to cool slightly.
5. Spoon the filling mixture into the par-baked pastry shell, packing down gently. Roll out the remaining dough as before and lay over the top of the loaf pan. Trim the overhang to about 1/2″ on all sides. Tuck excess overhang over the par-baked edge and pinch into a lip all the way around. Using your fingers, crimp the lip into a fluted edge like you would with any pie. With a sharp knife, cut a few vent lines into the top crust. Brush the top lightly with egg wash or melted, cooled butter, and sprinkle with a bit of kosher salt. Place in the oven to bake for 35-45 minutes, or until nicely golden brown.
6. Remove from oven and allow to cool enough to handle. Run a knife around the edges and carefully turn upside-down to un-mold gently onto your hand. Turn right-side up onto a serving platter or cutting board. Slice thickly as you would a loaf of bread and serve warm. This could be a fantastic lunch with a lovely green salad on the side, or could accompany a meat dish for dinner in the colder months.
Yield: 1 loaf, or about 8 servingsPrinter Friendly