Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ghosts and Goblins and...Orange Cauliflower?
What’s cooking? Grilled Cauliflower Steaks with Pesto and Cheese Sauce

Ya-ha-hah... Ladies and gents, give a cheer for Halloween! Possibly the most purely fun celebration of the year. No religious rites, no patriotic ceremonies, no special dinners to cook. Only costumes and candy and maybe a carved pumpkin or two – how could you not love it? And in spite of the Christmas trees now sprouting up like the weeds in my garden after a rain, I would like to mention that we have TWO holiday seasons (THREE if you add the early arrival of Hanukkah this year) to work our way through before any wise men should start packing their bags.

I love Halloween – possibly more as an adult than I did as a kid. I love opening my door to a handful of tiny fairies and dragons and pirates and princesses, all jockeying for position to get their trick-or-treat bags near the bowl of candy. I love the costumes, on old and young alike. (See my New York Times essay on the subject here.) And as a confirmed firebug, I relish the excuse to put candles in pumpkins – or anywhere else for that matter.

Halloween also brings the time of year when, at church on All Saints Day, they sing “For All the Saints.” One of my favorite hymns, it reminds me of my grandmother who, while not precisely saintly, got pretty damned close. And Halloween or not, she always had a bowl of candy near her front door for neighborhood kids who’d stop by. Not a bad model to emulate.

As I was walking through the New Jersey farmers’ market last week, taking in all the fall-ish offerings like butternut squash and mum plants and pumpkin scones from the bakery, I spotted something that made me absolutely stop in my tracks. Orange cauliflower. Yessiree, you heard it here. Such a gorgeous color, and the farmstand people said it would taste like the standard white variety, so I bought one. And packed it in my suitcase.

With a little research, I learned that orange cauliflower, also known as Cheddar cauliflower and Orange Bouquet cauliflower, is the result of a genetic mutation that allows it to hold more Vitamin A (beta carotene) than white cauliflower. Other than the color and the vitamin A thing, it’s pretty much the same as its lilywhite cousin in terms of texture and flavor. There is, however, one final difference: it’s way more fun as part of a Halloween celebration.

Having gotten it as far as Texas, I decided we had to do something different with it. A bit more research led me to slicing it into slabs and grilling it like steaks. I know, it sounds a bit weird, and the grillmaster at my house was darkly skeptical, but I persevered. One source suggested brushing the steaks with olive oil; another recommended pesto, which sounded so exotic, I had to try it. And, as luck would have it, I had basil pesto in the freezer. (Pesto being one of the Kitchen Goddess’s favorite ingredients. You could also use arugula pesto.) I’d recommend adding enough olive oil to the pesto to make it runny, so you can brush a thin layer onto the cauliflower.

I couldn’t really imagine cauliflower without cheese sauce, so I made some of that, too. I didn’t want to bury the flavor of the pesto, so the cheese sauce here is fairly simple. But oh, my. All we needed was a salad and a slab of Naan bread to make a completely delicious – and fun-colored – meal. And a great start to the Halloween season.

Grilled Cauliflower Steaks with Pesto and Cheese Sauce

1 head cauliflower, sliced in slabs ½-¾ inch thick**
¼ cup pesto (basil pesto or arugula pesto, thinned with a bit of olive oil) or just plain olive oil
salt and pepper

For the cheese sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
pinch of salt
1 cup milk (I used skim, but it should work as well with whole or low-fat)
Optional seasonings: pinch of dry mustard, pinch of cayenne pepper
5 ounces aged cheddar or other sharp cheese, grated

Lay the cauliflower steaks out on a rimmed baking sheet and brush liberally on both sides with the pesto. Salt and pepper both sides as well. Grill over medium heat until the steaks can be pierced easily with a knife, up to 10 minutes per side. The edges of the steaks should begin to char.

While the cauliflower is on the grill, make the cheese sauce. Melt the butter in a small, heavy saucepan over low heat. Stir in the flour and continue to stir until the mixture takes on a slightly golden hue, 5-10 minutes. (If you want more color to your sauce, just keep stirring.) Once the roux achieves the desired hue, add the salt and gradually pour in the milk, whisking constantly. Continue to whisk the sauce until it thickens. Once the sauce is thickened, remove it from the heat and stir in the cheese. Cover until ready to serve.

To serve, drizzle the cheese sauce over the cauliflower.

And yes, I have no photo of the cheese sauce. By the time we got to that point in the meal, my husband was ready to eat (if you get my drift), and I forgot to take another photo.

** Kitchen Goddess note: Once you slice it, you’ll be left with the sides of the cauliflower that don’t seem to lend themselves to steak-like preparation. I grilled some of that anyhow, and saved some for grilling another time soon.

Trick or Treat, everyone!


  1. i never thought to slice cauliflower like that! just recently tried roasting in the oven. so i will try this soon before i have to shovel a path to my grill.

    1. Yes, I know I have to stop posting grilling recipes soon, to keep my northern friends from getting frustrated. But in the meantime, you gotta try this one, Hen.

  2. This one's out of the ball park. (Fenway)

    1. You think maybe as far south as Yankee Stadium?

  3. This looks yummy. It might be a good idea to show a side view of the slab before it is cooked because with topping, the cauliflower looks three dimensional.

    1. The second photo of the slabs is actually pre-cooking. Maybe a bit hard to tell because of the color of the cauliflower. And it is certainly yummy.