I was recently reminiscing about a Spanish tapas and wine class that my two
best friends and I took a couple of years ago at The
New School here in NYC. The class
was exceptionally high on the fun scale, high on flavor and scrumptiousness and
low on instructional value. Nevertheless, it was a great evening and the highlight was when the
hard-working dishwasher accidentally threw away the mussel broth. Before
the mussels were served and eaten. The instructor gasped,
swore like a sailor spluttered, nearly
FLIPPED his lid. We all took turns
surreptitiously consoling the dishwasher throughout the rest of the evening,
ensuring him it truly wasn’t the end of the world. In the class, one of the new discoveries was
the fantastic combination of manchego cheese
paste (a.k.a. membrillo.) The two
are a marriage of epic Spanish
proportion (albeit apolitical and non-violent) with a well-balanced
sweet-salty-symbiosis. We also had marcona almonds
roasted in olive oil and sea salt, which were a wonderfully intense
chaser to the manchego and quince morsel. On my way home the other day, I was reliving this special memory and
began craving the tastes from that evening. I contemplated what dishes I could create to scratch this particular
culinary itch and my “Cauliflower Manchego Gratin with Quince Glaze
and Almonds” was born. I didn’t have
marcona almonds on hand, so just toasted raw almonds for a decent substitute.
Serves 6 - 8
1/4 cup raw almonds, in skin, toasted and chopped
1 2lb. head of fresh cauliflower, cleaned and cut into small florets
4 T. unsalted butter
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
kosher salt to taste
black pepper to taste
2 T. flour
1/2 c. hazelnut or almond liquid or cream as good substitute if you can’t find these
1 c. whole milk
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
3/4 cup grated manchego plus 3 T. more
2 T. quince paste
4 T. sweet white wine
3 T. water
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Farenheit. Heat a very small skillet on the stovetop to medium-high and add the raw almonds. Toast them, tossing and flipping frequently, until the skins begin to turn a deep brown and you smell the almond aroma, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
In a large skillet, bring 1/2 inch of salted water to a boil. Add the cauliflower, cover and cook over high heat until tender yet firm about 3-4 minutes. Drain the cauliflower in a colander.
In a medium saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the flour and whisk over moderately high heat for 1 minute. Add the milk and the hazelnut liquid and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in 3/4 cup of the Manchego until melted and smooth. Add the nutmeg, salt and pepper and whisk again. Try to keep the sauce warm, without cooking it further. Also, chop the cooled almonds into relatively fine pieces.
Return the large skillet to stovetop on medium-high heat and let any residual water evaporate from the heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in the skillet and melt. Add the onion and cook stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the cauliflower and cook until just golden, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the cauliflower to a baking dish and pour the Manchego sauce on top. Stir in the dish to evenly coat the cauliflower with the cheese sauce. Sprinkle the top with the chopped toasted almonds. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until bubbling and browned on top.
While the cauliflower is baking about 5 minutes before it's ready, prepare the quince glaze. Add the quince paste, white wine and water to a small saucepan. Heat very slowly on low heat, whisking the entire time. When glaze is smooth and even, reduce heat as low as possible and whisk occasionally to keep it warm and silky. Remove the cauliflower au gratin from the oven and let cool about 10 minutes. Spoon the quince paste over the top of the dish and serve.
If you had a Rioja on hand, it would be a great wine to drink with this dish.