I Made Ina Garten’s Cauliflower Toast (and Now I Get Why Everyone’s Obsessed with Her)
First up: A confession. Ina Garten was never really on my radar before I started working at PureWow. Like, I knew who she was and everything, but I didn’t get why everyone was so obsessed with her (and I certainly hadn’t developed a major crush on Jeffrey yet).
Things changed when I got in a copy of her latest cookbook, Cook Like a Pro. I spent an entire road trip up to the Berkshires salivating over each and every recipe. (I’ll add that I’d skipped breakfast that morning, so all of her warm and cheesy recipes looked especially mouthwatering.)
Then I heard her speak at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. As she answered audience questions, her charisma was palpable. She was simultaneously an expert chef and a humble home cook like the rest of us.
My ears perked up when she described how she rigorously tested and re-tested her recipes. In the digital/Instagram world where gorgeous food abounds, there’s nothing more frustrating than following a recipe to a tee, only to end up with sort of meh results. Ina’s promise: Hers work really damn well.
I decided to whip up her cauliflower toast just to make sure. And let me tell you—Ina doesn’t break promises. Here, I walk you through my extra cheesy (three varieties of cheese cheesy) journey.
Measure the Ingredients
1 small head cauliflower (2 pounds)
4 tablespoons good olive oil
¼ teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces Italian mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
6 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated
4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, julienned
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 large slices country-style bread
Freshly grated Italian Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
Chop the Cauliflower
Before you do anything, preheat the oven to 400°F. Next, cut the cauliflower—starting from the stems, as opposed to the top. Cut off and discard most but not all of the stems, then cut the florets into small, ½-inch clusters. Ina claims this technique prevents you from getting cauliflower crumbles all over your counter, and she’s totally right. I’ll be using this chopping technique from here on out. Scrape your artful florets onto a rimmed baking sheet.
Roast the Cauliflower
Toss the cauliflower with the olive oil, red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper; spread it out in a single layer. Roast, tossing two or three times, until the florets are tender and randomly browned (how fantastic is that indicator?), 25 to 30 minutes. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes and turn the oven to broil.
Assemble the Toast
Transfer the florets to a mixing bowl and add the marscapone, stirring to coat the florets evenly. Stir in the Gruyère, prosciutto, nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper. At this point, the contents in the bowl kind of look like a gross, gooey mass, but have confidence in all the good cheesy, meaty ingredients you just combined. Next, toast the bread in a toaster until lightly browned. I didn’t have a toaster big enough to fit my huge slices of country-style bread, so I toasted mine on a second baking sheet while my cauliflower roasted. A word to the wise: Pull your bread when it’s just barely golden brown and crisp; it’ll cook more later on. Finally, arrange the toast on a sheet pan lined with foil, mound the cauliflower mixture on top of each slice and dust with paprika.
Broil and Devour
Now, for the finishing touches. Broil the toasts until browned and bubbling, 2 to 4 minutes. Ina cautions, “Watch them carefully!” and boy, does she mean it. Mine went for three minutes and suddenly started smoking. I pulled them quickly; luckily, they were still OK. Transfer to a plate (or, in my case, a cutting board) and sprinkle with the Parmesan, chives and sea salt. Devour. As you help yourself to a second piece, marvel at the sharp, salty, tangy, crunchy—and most importantly—exquisitely balanced—flavor. Realize that what you’re eating sort of tastes like cauliflower prosciutto mac and cheese, in the best way possible. And finally, truly understand why people call the Barefoot Contessa “Queen Ina.”