Posted by: Rachel | January 26, 2014

the cauliflower variation

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you know I am mad about chestnuts. And, you know I keep bags of them on hand year ’round because I love them so.

Since we have actually been having winter this winter, I’ve been digging into my reserves and finding new and different (at least for me) ways to incorporate them into my “winter” diet. Here’s one for you.

These past few weeks my local grocery has practically been throwing cauliflower at us. They are huge, snowy white, and cheap! So… since I can’t pass up such a good deal I got to thinking.

I’m sure this is not original. Nothing really is – there are only eight notes in music and everything else is a variation, right? But I haven’t seen this precise combination before and I think you might enjoy it too.

I’ve been making this dish without the cauliflower for use as a pasta sauce since I got back from that Italy trip last November. It is a very rough take off on a dinner I enjoyed (enormously!) at the Patria Palace Hotel after slogging around on an immensely rainy day in Lecce.

They made it with chestnuts, mushrooms, and shrimp as a pasta sauce. It was just what I needed. Mmmmmmmmmm!!

You may remember that during the trip I discovered burrata, what I call the “ship in a bottle” cheese. I will never understand how they get that cream in the center, but oh my, does it add to a sauce!

I can only give you rough amounts, as this is one of those “slightly different each time” recipes. I add pancetta if I have it and if I am not feeding vegetarians. I add onions if I’m in the mood. I went with the cauliflower variation only because, as I said above, I couldn’t resist it!

Here’s how I did the cauliflower variation.

Cauliflower Bake

ready to pop into the oven

almost ready

1 medium onion, chopped
olive oil
1 5-ounce bag prepared chestnuts (about 1 C)
oyster mushrooms, rough chopped
1/2 head cauliflower cut into small florets
pancetta (optional)
salt and pepper as desired

Butter an oven-proof baking dish.
Preheat the oven to 325F

(If you are using pancetta, chop it and cook it over medium heat in a large pan until slightly browned.)

Add olive oil to the pan and sauté the onions gently until tender but do not brown. Add the mushrooms and chestnuts. Cook down until the mushrooms are soft and the chestnuts can be mashed with a fork. Mash the chestnuts slightly but leave some nice chunks.

Add the cauliflower and toss or stir to incorporate. Cut the burrata into bits over the pan so the cream runs in, and stir to incorporate.

finished "casserole"

baked and beautiful

Scrape the contents of the pan into the baking dish, cover tightly with foil and bake for 1/2 hour.
You can skip the baking step if you like, by covering the pan and letting the cauliflower cook down, but I think baking it melds the flavors and melts the cheese better.

If you can’t find oyster mushrooms, any variety will do but I love the woodsy, meaty flavor of the oyster mushrooms.

You could also use those silly colored cauliflower varieties (yellow, green, purple…) that are showing up these days. Who knows? Maybe that’s a way to get more veggies into kids… and it certainly would be festive!

This is one of those “enjoy with green salad, crusty bread, and red wine” recipes I so love. If you are gluten-intolerant, skip the bread (obviously) but the sentiment remains. Enjoy this during cold or wet weather and buon appetito!



  1. Oh that sounds delicious! I’m wondering about finding chestnuts in your part of the world. I know you said you had a stash but are they readily available “in season” that allows you to “stash” them away? I’ve looked for them but no luck.

    • I buy bags of already processed and ready-to-use” chestnuts at the big Chinese grocery in north Austin. The “best by” date is usually almost a year, so they keep fine. Mmmmmm… yummy and handy!

  2. Your dish sounds absolutely wonderful. You just answered the question I was going to ask about the chestnuts. I can get chestnuts in a jar but unfortunately the markets in my rural area don’t carry burrata. 😦

    • If you can’t get burrata you can use fresh mozzarella and some heavy cream. The end result is *almost* the same… Mmmmmmmm!!

  3. Wow, I’m mad for chestnuts, too, after living in France 3 summers. Recipe sounds like bliss! I get chestnuts in syrup from Market Hall Foods, san fran.

    • In syrup? You mean sweet? That sounds interesting. The ones I get are vacuum-packed in jars, bags, or plastic packs (Trader Joe’s) pretty much like these. Never met a chestnut I didn’t like… Mmmmmm!! 😉

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