Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cauliflower and Beet Salad with Pistachio Encrusted Ricotta

P made this salad last weekend for our dinner party.  Even though it looks like a sea monster, it was pretty tasty.  Here is his report on it:

Cassoulet can be just the slightest bit heavy, so we wanted something on the lighter side to serve with it. After some meditation (i.e., Googling), my thought was to pair the wintry vegetables beets and cauliflower together to serve as a dainty introduction to the meal. I thought that L's freshly-made batch of ricotta might spruce the dish up, so I balled some of it up and rolled them in chopped pistachios. The ricotta also played a part because I parboiled the cauliflower pieces in the remaining whey before roasting, hoping to impart a little bit of a tangy flavor. Alas, the tang was elusive, but the florets were no worse for the wear from their dairy dousing.

If I made this again, I think I'd just reconsider the way the whole thing is constructed. I thought cutting the cauliflower on the mandolin would make for a nicer presentation, but I really should have respected the vegetable's branchy nature and cut into florets. The whole thing would also be best served in a bowl rather than a dish because the little cubed beets liked to try to escape from the plate in the course of eating. But, it was a nice pairing and I think it deserves future study.

I'm going to write this out the way I should have done it, not the way I did it, so the fruitless whey-poaching step will be happily omitted. L was right, and I think everything will taste better roasted anyway.

1 head of cauliflower
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Curry powder
4 medium-to-large beets
Toasted pistachios, chopped
Vinegar (sherry, white wine or apple cider)

Make balls out of the ricotta, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Roll in the pistachios and refrigerate uncovered.

Heat oven to 400°. Wrap the whole beets in foil and roast.

After the beets have been in for about 20 minutes, cut cauliflower into small florets and chop the good parts of the stem up. Toss in a large bowl with a few tablespoons of olive oil, a sprinkling of salt, and maybe 1/2 tsp of curry powder. Spread out on a cookie sheet - do not overcrowd the sheet, or the pieces will not brown. Pop into the oven with the beets. Check every 10 minutes or so, turning as necessary, and continue to roast until they are lightly browned. At this point, remove the beets as well - they should be tender but still a little firm and crunchy.

Peel the beets and dice into small cubes. Heat a 1/4 cup of honey until it runs freely and add a pinch of salt, a pinch of curry powder, and just a splash of vinegar.

For a serving, place some cauliflower in the bowl and top with diced beets. Pop a ricotta ball on top and drizzle lightly with the honey mixture. If you have any leftover pistachios from the coating step, you can sprinkle with some of those as well.

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