Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hot Artichoke-Cauliflower Antipasto for cold weather

Antipasti, those hot or cold small dishes that in a classical Italian meal come before the pasta course (thus the name), are part of the delight of Italian cuisine. These appetizers accesorize and give variation to otherwise familiar food. Some antipasti can serve as a snack or on the buffet table, but traditionally they are part of the dinner.

I’m not sure this earthy dish is actually an authentic Italian antipasto. But if it’s not, it certainly is consistent with one. I patterned it after something I had once in an Italian restaurant. It serves extremely well at the beginning of a meal in cold weather, spooned or spread onto thinly sliced baguette or rustic Italian bread. It also goes with wine as an hors d'oevre before going to dinner.

One of my favorite white wines, a Sauvignon blanc (especially from New Zealand), nicely chilled, accompanies this well. But the more overworked (and my less favored) Pinot grigio will do, as will a light-bodied Chardonnay if you can find one.

The recipe serves six or more as an appetizer with bread or crackers.

Hot Artichoke-Cauliflower Antipasto Tim

2 large cauliflower flowerets, about 2/3 cup
1 small scallion (green onion)
1 small clove garlic
1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts (not the marinated type)
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
5/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Large pinch cayenne or 3 squirts hot pepper sauce
Large pinch nutmeg
3/4 cup half and half or light cream
3 tablespoons grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
Paprika
Minced parsley for garnish
French or Italian bread or low-salt crackers for serving

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Using a food processor, finely chop the cauliflower, scallion, and garlic. Drain the artichoke hearts and add them to the food processor. Add the mayonnaise, salt, oregano, black pepper, cayenne, and nutmeg. Chop the mixture finely. Add the half and half or cream and the grated cheese. Pulse to mix well.

Spread the mixture about 1-inch deep in an ovenproof serving dish. Sprinkle the top with paprika. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until bubbling and beginning to brown. (Warm the bread in the oven after turning off the heat.)

Serve the antipasto hot or warm, sprinkled with minced parsley. Spoon or spread onto pieces of warm bread or crackers.

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