Ina Garten's Cauliflower Toasts Are the Veggie-Packed Fall Appetizer We Can't Wait to Make
Whoa, whoa, whoa. We think the world is big enough for both avocado and cauliflower toast, but one comment on an Ina Garten recipe had us running to our kitchens to DIY!
The aforementioned recipe is one starter featured in Cook Like a Pro: Recipes and Tips for Home Cooks (buy it: $17.21, Target), and on a recent rerun of Garten's always-gold show.
"I'm turning ordinary vegetables into extraordinary dishes," Garten says, introducing the produce-centric episode of Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics that aired last weekend on Food Network. "I'm taking everyday cauliflower and making Cauliflower Toasts with cheese and prosciutto. It's the perfect first course."
While Garten doesn't despise it as much as cilantro—the one food you'll never see in any of her recipes—she wasn't always particularly fond of the cruciferous vegetable.
"I have to say, I didn't like cauliflower until I started roasting it. It has that kind of dry consistency and really not much flavor. When you roast it, it gets really sweet and almost creamy," she says. For this particular use, she's not stopping after roasting. "Everyone thinks of cauliflower as a side dish, right? Well what I do is roast it, I pile it on toast with lots of gruyere on top and it makes a fabulous appetizer...That's a way to take a very lowly vegetable, like cauliflower, and make it into something really luxurious and delicious."
While we don't necessarily think this versatile veggie is lowly—just think of all the options to rice it, pizza crust it, steak it, gnocchi it and more—we do think this easy appetizer sounds like a scrumptious way to dress it up.
To make Garten's top-notch toasts, start with a small (about 2-pound) head of cauliflower, and flip it over. Carefully cut off the green portions and most of the stems to compost or make stock with, then slice the florets into ½-inch pieces, Garten explains.
"Most people cut it right through the top [and down the center]. You end up with a flat plane, which isn't very pretty," Garten says. "What I do is turn it over and cut out the core, and then pull the florets apart. That way, you get really nice, rounded florets. No flat edges."
Transfer the florets to a large sheet pan, toss with some olive oil (Garten's "good olive oil" is Olio Santo Extra Virgin Olive Oil; buy it: $39.95 for 750 milliliters, Williams Sonoma), red pepper flakes, salt and black pepper, then roast for about 30 minutes "tossing it from time to time." The florets should be "tender and randomly browned," at this point, according to Garten.
Allow the roasted veggies to cool for about 10 minutes, then place them in a large mixing bowl. To the vegetables, add mascarpone cheese ("like Italian cream cheese, just a little richer," Garten explains), plus grated gruyere, julienned prosciutto (you can omit this for a vegetarian version), salt, black pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Toss this all together until well-mixed.
Then it's time to turn to the toast itself. Garten prefers a boule, or country-style bread with a firm texture. "If you use a white bread, it's going to be too soft and it won't hold the cauliflower," she says. Toast these slices in a toaster until lightly browned, mound them high with the cauliflower mixture and dust with paprika. Broil for about 3 minutes until bubbly and golden brown.
Serve hot, topped with fresh chives for "mild onion flavor," Garten says, a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and a pinch of flaky sea salt. (BTW, Garten adores the same pick here as Cameron Diaz: Maldon Sea Salt; buy it: $5.49 for 8.5 ounces, Amazon.)
The fan feedback is unanimously glowing: "Do yourself a favor and make this! All you need is a crisp white wine and this and you are in heaven," one Barefoot Contessa viewer says. If you're craving a lower-carb or side dish-style option, "put the cauliflower mixture in a small casserole and serve it as a dip with celery and pita chips," another suggests. But whatever you do, don't skip this dish.