Saturday, January 24, 2009

February Royal Foodie Joust -- Mushroom Pastitsio with a Cauliflower "Bechamel"

I was pretty excited by the selection of February's Royal Foodie Joust ingredients: cauliflower, mushrooms and noodles. There were a million different ways to go with these humble ingredients for my second entry into this friendly competition hosted by Jenn over at The Leftover Queen. If you aren't already a member, please visit Jenn's forum where you'll find a great spot to interact with fellow food bloggers, participate in giveaways, join in on the friendly Joust or simply vote for your favorite Jouster--of course, that would be me ... wink, wink!

I knew from the start that I wanted to use the cauliflower in some sort of puree as I love the silky texture you can get from this earthy vegetable. Having just made a traditional Greek Pastitsio a couple of weeks ago, I still had Pastitsio on the brain the other day when I finally decided to tackle this Joust. Now, a traditional Pastitsio (which is the only Pastitsio my family and I have made) features layers of long noodles and cinnamon-scented ground meat topped with a decadent bechamel. To create a dish for the Joust, I decided to change up a traditional bechamel, make it a bit healthier if you will--my mom's Pastitsio recipe features a bechamel of 1/2 a gallon of milk, a stick of butter, 12 tablespoons of flour, a cup of grated cheese and a whopping 6 eggs--by using pureed cauliflower to replace much of the milk, flour and butter. This yummy cauliflower "bechamel" topped off earthy portobello and button mushrooms squeezed between layers of Greek Pastitsio noodles to make this light, entirely nontraditional Pastitsio.

Kali Orexi!

Mushroom Pastitsio with Cauliflower "Bechamel"
Makes a 13x9 casserole

8 oz. pancetta or bacon, thinly sliced
3 shallots, chopped
2 lbs. mushrooms, wiped clean, stems removed and sliced thick (I used portobello and button mushrooms)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Thyme leaves stripped from 3 or 4 sprigs
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 package Misko No. 2 Pastitsio Noodles

Cauliflower "Bechamel":
1 large head of cauliflower, cut into large florets, steamed until tender and drained well
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup half & half
1 cup milk
3/4 cup grated Kefalotyri (easily substituted by grated Parmesan)
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3 large eggs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a large skillet, render the pancetta or bacon until crisp. Remove from the skillet with a slotted spoon and into a separate bowl. Add the shallots to the skillet and saute until translucent. Stir in the mushrooms along with the garlic, salt and pepper and cook until the mushrooms are tender and cooked through (add the olive oil as the mushrooms are browning if they seem too dry). Sprinkle with the thyme and adjust the seasonings. Combine with the pancetta or bacon and sprinkle with the chopped parsley.

Boil the noodles according to the package directions. Drain well and begin layering in a 13x9 inch baking dish. Layer the noodles first, followed by the mushroom mixture and then another layer of noodles. Set aside.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large pot, mash the cauliflower well until fairly smooth. Over medium heat, stir in the butter until melted then add the half & half and milk (stir the milk in gradually depending on how thick the mixture looks). Add the Kefalotyri, nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. (If at this point the sauce does not seem thick enough, briskly whisk in a tablespoon or so of flour.)

Remove the pot from the heat and add the eggs one at a time, stirring briskly after each addition. Adjust the seasonings if necessary then pour the cauliflower "bechamel" over the noodles in the baking dish. Sprinkle with some grated cheese and bake in the center of the oven for about 40 minutes until slightly golden on top.

Let cool at least 15 to 20 minutes before serving. (Letting the dish cool before cutting and serving is crucial as pieces will fall apart upon cutting without first cooling slightly.)


Peter M said...

Maria, you're proving to be very resourceful..I brain-farted on this month's Joust (coming come up with a thing).

The cauliflower in the Bechamel is very creative and it works here with mushrooms as the "meat" of the dish.

Good luck in the Joust!

gastroanthropologist said...

You should totally win this. Wow. What a fabulous and creative way to use these ingredients. Bechamel - the Mother of all Mother Sauces!!!

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Now this is just pure genius, Maria! Wow, I am so beyond impressed with your ingenuity here. Best of luck in the Joust...I certainly believe you have a winning entry!

Maria said...

Awww, shucks you guys ... now I'm blushing! ;)

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is so clever! What a great twist on the Greek classic!

billy said...

oh wow! this looks very delicious. I definitely will give this recipe a try! (I hate cauliflower)
good luck!

Núria said...

I just come from Sam's Pastitsio and now I find your beautiful version for the Joust!!! Mmmmm It looks fantastic Maria :D
Lunch time is getting near and I think I'll change my keyboard for the kitchen counter ;D

Ivy said...

I just came over from Sam's pastitsio as well. It seems that for another time Cyprus cooking has more influence from the Aegean islands as they are closer to Cyprus and we as well add cinnamon to our pastitsio. You did a great job with the mushroom pastitsio. Good luck with the Joust.

_ts of [eatingclub] vancouver said...

Oh, this is fabulous! A creative way to use the ingredients.

Peter G said...

Creative. Clever and pure genius! Love how you fitted the Joust ingredients with this Greek classic! Def a winner! Good luck!

Mediterranean kiwi said...

this is very very clever - i'm getting bored of boiled cauliflower, so this is a wonderful addition to may alternatives for our garden excess

Hopie said...

Cauliflower béchamel! Wow, what a wonderful idea. Good luck for the joust.

Ivy said...

Here I am again. There is an Award for you on my blog.

://: Heni ://: said...

Instead Maria, this is very creative. I love it! And going to make it this week! Keep these wonderful recipes coming! With love,Henia

Rosie said...

Oh this is really good maria! Good luck on this month's Joust.

Rosie x

Elra said...

Looks incredibly beautiful Maria. I never made pasta like this before. I shall try it one day.

Mediterranean kiwi said...

thanks for the information about disney eggs - sounds sickening. you should let your kids know why you find it so off-putting just so they know why it's a gross thing and can make a judgment about it when asked my more 'fashionable' kids!

Laurie Constantino said...

This is an incredibly creative recipe Maria - you really earned your stripes with this one. Cauliflower "bechamel" here I come! Funny thing about cinnamon in traditional pastistio - I've eaten many a square made by many different people, and every single one contained cinnamon.

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