Comfort Food

Comfort Food


During my childhood … my favorite vintage period of the 1950s and the 1960s … one of my favorite vegetables was cauliflower.  We didn’t have it a lot.  I always figured it was either expensive, hard to find, or both.  It was not a garden vegetable for us, so it came from the grocery store.

Mama cooked it whole.  She used a big pot that she used for lots of things.  She used that pot for so many years that at the end of her life, it didn’t even have a handle!  She still used it.  She cooked it slowly in water, but she also added milk to the water.  I was sitting at the kitchen table one time when I was about six years old.  I asked her why she added the milk, and she told me it helped keep the cauliflower white!   She would flip to see the bright lime green, purple and orange cauliflowers we get these days!  Mother also made the same cheese sauce every time!  Velveeta was the main ingredient!  I cook cauliflower the same way, and Velveeta is my processed cheese of choice, too!

Cauliflower is a word that is thought to have come from the Italian word “caolifliori”, which means cabbage flowers.  Europe enjoyed cauliflower during the Middle ages.  For some reason it disappeared but was reintroduced in the by Italians on the island of Cyprus.  It had been taken to Cyprus from Asia.  Those cauliflowers were different than the Middle Ages style.  They were named Cyprus Cabbage.

By 1600, the Germans had “blumenkohl”.  The English called it “cole”.  Italians loved their “cavolfiore”, and the Spanish cooked “cliforlor”!  There are mentions of the vegetable in various historic texts and we know that King Louis XIV liked his cooked in stock and seasoned with nutmeg and butter!

American cookbooks from the 1700s provide recipes for stewing, boiling and frying cauliflower. Pickling the vegetable was introduced and was served when other vegetables were not available.  In the 1800s, we started serving it with butter and white sauce.  Those recipes suggest boiling it in milk to “gentle its flavor”.  In the 1800s, we also started making creamy cauliflower soup!  And … you thought that was invented in the 1970s!

It isn’t often that I find something I have never seen or cooked!  That was true not long ago when I got this magnificent vegetable in my vegetable delivery box!  This Romanesco cauliflower was so much fun to prepare.  It was also delicious. 

This magnificent vegetable is Italian in origin and history tells us it was being grown in Rome during the 16th Century.  Its flavor is a little bit nuttier than the regular cauliflower, so I decided it didn’t need any kind of sauce, just a little butter.  I also thought it was a bit regal, so I served it with chicken breasts stuffed with feta cheese and wrapped in prosciutto.  The color of the Romanesco faded during cooking, but it was still a pretty site!

The recipe for cooking this big beauty is simple.  I used the IP and cooked it for 3 minutes … just 3 minutes.  By the time it built up pressure and released the pressure, it was perfect.  I served it with melted butter poured over it.  Browned butter would have been delicious, too.  I also spritzed a little lemon juice over it right before I served it.

The chicken recipe is also pretty simple!

Chicken Breasts with Lemon Feta

4 ounce package of lemon flavored goat cheese
4 thick chicken breasts
8 ounces of sliced prosciutto
Salt and pepper
Lemon slices for garnish

When I want to stuff a chicken breast with cheese, I never want it to melt out of the meat.  Instead of slicing the meat horizontally, I slice a big space from the top and tuck the cheese inside.  That way, it just melts into the little pocket I cut! 

Slice the pocket into each breast.  Slice the goat cheese log into 4 chunks and tuck a chunk into each breast.  Wrap each breast with the prosciutto.  If you cannot get or don’t want to afford prosciutto, deli ham will work just as well.  Place the breasts on a baking sheet and roast at 350 degrees for 30 – 40 minutes.  Make sure the juices run clear from the chicken.  The amount of time depends upon the thickness of the meat.

I served this chicken and my beautiful Romanesco on a bed of white and wild rice.  I drizzled the melted butter all over the platter!  

What to do with leftover cauliflower?  You will often read about fritters in my blog posts.  As I’ve researched a variety of food topics over the years, I have often encountered the reasons why home cooks prepared fritters.  In the absence of meat during war times, minced meats or vegetables made into fritters took the place of that piece of meat.  In the absence of money, the same applied. Using leftovers or small portions of something and adding an egg and breadcrumbs or cracker crumbs … turned small portions into a meal for several.  The only thing similar to a fritter that my mother ever made was a salmon croquette.  My husband didn’t like salmon croquettes, because his mother made them with canned mackerel instead of salmon.  That was all about cost! 

Abraham Lincoln liked “Corn Oysters”, which were fritters made with fresh corn.  Martha Washington made apple fritters that had dark ale in them.  Menus from the banquet tables of Henry VIII include fritters!  I love fritters.

Cauliflower Fritters

2 cups of leftover cooked cauliflower
2 eggs
1/2 c cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup crushed crackers
1 teaspoon of lemon pepper
Sprinkle of salt
olive oil for frying

Mash the cooked cauliflower and press it in a sieve to push all the water out of it. If you freeze leftover cauliflower, it will have even more moisture in it, so push! Stir cheese, eggs, cracker crumbs and pepper together with the cauliflower.

Put a little olive oil in a skillet and set it to medium-high heat. Form the cauliflower mixture into patties about 3 inches across. Cook until golden brown & set, about 3 minutes per side. Sprinkle with a little salt.

These are fantastic served with a salad or a bowl of soup. They are a great side dish for most any meat. Enjoy!

I'll be sharing this column with a few blog parties, so look at the list on my sidebar and go visit. This post is a part of my 2020 Vintage Vegetable project. If you'd like to see similar columns, just click my menu tab for the project.

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