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Milk Street Vegetarian (Ep 506)

Cauliflower Steaks with Pickled Peppers, Capers and Parmesan Start to finish: 45 minutes
Servings: 4

To make a satisfying vegetarian main, we cut thick cauliflower “steaks” from the center section of the whole head; you’ll get two steaks per head. The ends that are left over
tend to fall apart because they’re detached from the core, but don’t discard them—use
them to make cauliflower rice, roast them separately or make them into soup. The
savory-sweet topping for these cauliflower steaks riffs on a recipe in “Six Seasons” by Joshua McFadden.

Don’t forget to pat dry the pickled peppers and capers. Removing excess moisture will help the topping brown better in the oven.

Two 2- to 21⁄2-pound cauliflower heads, trimmed
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1⁄2 cup Peppadew peppers OR seeded pickled sweet cherry peppers, patted dry and finely chopped
1⁄2 cup lightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, finely grated (1⁄2 cup)
1⁄4 cup drained capers, patted dry and roughly chopped

Heat the oven to 500°F with a rack in the middle position. Mist a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Halve each cauliflower top to bottom. From the cut side of each half, slice off a 11⁄2-inch-thick slab to make a total of 4 “steaks”; reserve the ends for another use. Brush the steaks on all sides with 4 tablespoons of oil and season with salt
and pepper. Roast on the prepared baking sheet until browned on the bottoms, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the Peppadews, parsley, Parmesan, capers and the remaining 2 tablespoons oil.

After the cauliflower has roasted for 20 minutes, spread the Peppadew mixture onto the steaks. Continue to roast until the topping is well browned and the steaks are tender, another 8 to 10 minutes.

Mushroom and Cheese Quesadillas Start to finish: 30 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6

You’ll find quesadillas of all types in Mexico. In Mexico City, they’re often made from fresh masa and without cheese; in other parts of the country, they’re made with flour tortillas, with lots of melty Oaxaca cheese. Fillings vary from stewed or griddled meat to squash blossoms to nopales (cactus paddles). In this recipe, we stuff tortillas with a mixture of sautéed mushrooms and cheese, with a little smoky and spicy heat from a
chipotle chili. Made with 4- to 5-inch flour tortillas, the quesadillas are perfect for a lunch or snack. If you can’t find queso Oaxaca, any mild melting cheese, such as mozzarella or muenster, will work. Lard is traditional for cooking these quesadillas, but for a vegetarian version, use grapeseed or another neutral oil. For best browning, cook these in a nonstick skillet.

Don’t use a conventional (i.e., not nonstick) skillet. The quesadillas brown best in a nonstick pan.

4 tablespoons lard OR neutral oil, divided
1 medium white onion, chopped
1 pound mixed mushrooms, such as cremini, oyster, portobello or shiitakes (stemmed), roughly chopped
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 chipotle chili in adobo sauce, finely chopped
3 ounces queso Oaxaca OR mozzarella cheese OR muenster cheese, shredded (3⁄4 cup)
1⁄3 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro, chopped
Eight 4- to 5-inch flour tortillas

In a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high, heat 2 tablespoons of lard until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and 1⁄2 teaspoon each salt and pepper, then cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and well browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and chipotle; cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds. Transfer to a medium bowl, then stir in the cheese and cilantro. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Wipe out the skillet with paper towels; set aside.

Divide the mushroom mixture evenly among the tortillas, spreading it over half of each. Fold the unfilled sides over and press to seal.

In the same skillet over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of the remaining lard until shimmering. Add 4 of the quesadillas and cook until the tortillas are golden brown on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook, adjusting the heat as needed, until the second sides are browned, another 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a platter and repeat with the remaining quesadillas using the remaining 1 tablespoon lard.

Panzanella with Fresh Mozzarella
Start to finish: 40 minutes
Servings: 4

This version of the classic Italian bread salad known as panzanella was inspired by a version from “Ruffage” author Abra Berens. We tear the bread into pieces to create more texture. We also quick-pickle red onion in sherry vinegar to add sharp bites of acidity. Finally, we soak pieces of fresh mozzarella in cream to add richness and mimic the butteriness of burrata cheese. Fresh basil and parsley, left as leaves rather than chopped, are tossed into the salad just before serving to add vibrant color and summery fragrance as well as fresh herbal flavor.

Don’t forget to salt the tomatoes as the first step. This ensures they are seasoned
throughout, which is especially important if they aren’t at the peak of ripeness. It also softens their texture. Don’t use regular mozzarella cheese. It’s important to use fresh mozzarella, often sold packed in water.

11⁄2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1⁄2 small red onion, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
8 ounces crusty white bread, sliced 1⁄2 inch thick and torn into bite-size pieces (about 8 cups)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to serve
8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 cup lightly packed fresh basil
1⁄2 cup lightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley

In a large bowl, toss the tomatoes with 1⁄2 teaspoon salt; set aside. In a small bowl, stir together the red onion, vinegar and 1⁄4 teaspoon salt; set aside.

In a 12-inch skillet over medium, toss the bread with the oil and 1⁄4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp and light golden brown, 4 to 8 minutes. Immediately transfer to the bowl with the tomatoes and toss. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, using your hands, tear the mozzarella into bite-size chunks and add to a small bowl. Stir in the cream, lemon zest, a pinch of salt and 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper.

Using a slotted spoon or tongs, transfer the onion to the tomato-bread mixture, reserving the vinegar. Add the parsley and basil, then toss. Taste and season with salt, pepper and some of the reserved vinegar, if needed. Transfer to a serving dish, then top with the cheese and a generous drizzle of oil.

You can watch  past episodes of Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street on WSKG Passport.

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To see other recipes from Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street and other shows, visit  Cooking with WSKG.