I'm trying to get invited to John Seaborn Gray's house for shepherd's pie. I'm betting it tastes great. His Shameless Chef column reminded me of Andrew Schloss's cookbooks Almost From Scratch, Homemade in a Hurry and Cooking With Three Ingredients. Schloss's premise is that great chefs don't cook from scratch -- they have assistant chefs who make the master sauces, roast the peppers, and chop the veggies for them. Schloss encourages home cooks to use canned soups and prepared ingredients found on grocery store salad bars to speed up home cooking.
The Velveeta and Rotel tomatoes in my Tex-Mex cookbooks have already made me a pariah among food snobs, so I don't worry much about using prepared foods in my cooking. Remind me to show you how to make tamale pie with Pioneer Cornbread mix and Wolf Brand Chili one of these days.
But I like easy recipes that use fresh stuff even better. Yesterday, after sampling three Vietnamese dishes from two different restaurants in the afternoon, I wasn't in the mood to eat a big dinner. I also had a head of cauliflower in the crisper drawer I needed to use. So I put together an easy cauliflower casserole with five ingredients -- cauliflower, pasta, olive oil, garlic and cheese. (Okay, six ingredients if you count two kinds of cheese.) It took about a half an hour to cook. It was so good, even small children liked it.
Here's the recipe.
Half a pound of rigatoni (or penne, or wagon wheels, or other short pasta.) 1 head cauliflower 4 to 5 tablespoons olive oil 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced 1 cup shredded parmesan or romano cheese 6 ounces grated fontina cheese (or provolone, jack, mozzarella, cheddar) Red pepper flakes (optional) Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package and drain. Rinse the cauliflower and cut it into florets. Steam for 5 to 7 minutes until wilted, but crisp. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat and add the garlic, stirring to brown slightly. Add the cauliflower and cook in the oil for a few minutes, stirring to coat with the oil. Add the pasta and the parmesan or romano. Season with red pepper flakes if desired and salt and pepper to taste and stir well. Put the mixture in a baking dish and top with the melting cheese. Bake for five minutes or until the cheese melts. Serve with a salad.