creamy cauliflower and grana padano soup

With yet another snowstorm getting underway here, it seemed like a good day to make this simple and nourishing soup. Last week, I tasted it as prepared by Fabio Viviani, the charming Italian guy from Top Chef.

He was in New York City doing a demonstration for Legends from Europe, representing some pure, natural food products from Italy, including Proscuitto di Parma, Prosciutto di San Daniele, Montasio and Grana Padano cheeses.

Grana Padano is sometimes called “poor man’s Parmigiano Reggiano,” which seems a little unfair. I think it’s just as delicious. And possibly because it’s not as well known outside of Italy, I find it tends to have a more friendly price tag. It’s made in the Po Valley region in northeastern Italy from raw cow’s milk and aged between 9 and 24 months. The cheese develops a rich flavor and granular texture that I absolutely love, with a slightly milder and less salty taste than Parmigiano.  [Read more…]

spicy calabrian cauliflower carbonara

A while back (a long, long while…) I was paying a visit to California wine country.  I was exploring the town of Yountville one afternoon, and wandered into a NapaStyle store. Right there in the middle of the place was Michael Chiarello himself, working the room like the smooth guy he is. He was wearing an immaculate lavender-colored oxford shirt, slim Italian-tailored trousers and his megawatt Food Network smile.

Feeling a tiny bit starstruck, I went over to say hello. I don’t remember what we chatted about, but I do remember him handing me a jar of hot chili pepper sauce, telling me it was from his family’s hometown in Calabria and that I couldn’t leave the store without it. Okay! He didn’t have to work that sales angle too hard.  [Read more…]

roasted cauliflower, chickpeas and harissa


I was browsing through Vegetable Love, a huge and wonderful cookbook by legendary food writer Barbara Kafka. The recipes are not strictly vegetarian or vegan, but it contains a bounty of ideas, methods and nutritional info for just about any vegetable you can think of. I especially like the A – Z glossary at the back of the book.

Which is what I was reading when I came across the section on cooking methods for Cauliflower, where Barbara lists the many ways it can be prepared; steamed, stir-fried, boiled, fried, and last but not least…microwaved. And then she writes: “ not good roasted”.


Are you freaking kidding me?! I couldn’t disagree more. Cauliflower is delicious roasted. In fact, it might be my favorite way to eat it. But to give Ms. Kafka the benefit of the doubt, I’m sure she’s expressing her fine-tuned personal taste.

My personal taste includes a pretty intense addiction to the spicy Tunisian chili paste harissa. I could – and do – put harissa on everything at any time of day, from eggs to leftovers I eat for lunch. It’s my global ketchup.


You can find harissa in many well-stocked supermarkets. But if you really want to find harissa nirvana, I recommend the one made by Moulin Mahjoub. I don’t know what it is, but to my palate it has just the right amount of smoky, sweet-heat and savory deliciousness.

You can get it at Amazon if you’re not near a specialty food store, which is where I often buy it. I’ve even seen it at Williams-Sonoma a while back.

If you love cauliflower or better yet, if you find yourself on the vegetable fence, try spicing it up and roasting as I do in this slightly Moroccan-inspired recipe.


roasted cauliflower, chickpeas and harissa

Serving Size: serves 4 - 6

The cauliflower makes a simple salad meal served warm over wilted spinach.


  1. 1 head cauliflower, separated into bite-sized florets
  2. ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  3. Salt
  4. 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
  5. 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained
  6. 1 small sweet onion, like Maui or red onion; finely sliced
  7. 2 – 3 tablespoons harissa
  8. ½ bunch each Italian parsley and cilantro
  9. ½ a lemon
  10. 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese


  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Spread the cauliflower out on a large rimmed baking sheet. Add 3 tablespoons of the oil, ½ teaspoon salt and the cumin seeds. Roast 20 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender and golden. Add the chickpeas and roast an additional 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon oil in an 8 – 10-inch sauté pan. Add the onion and a pinch of salt. Cover the pan and cook over medium-low heat until the onions are very soft. Stir in the harissa along with 1 tablespoon water.
  4. Pick the leaves off the parsely and cilantro and tear into rough pieces; throw them over the chickpeas. Squeeze the lemon over and toss together with the onion mixture.
  5. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with the feta.