Dinner That Broke the Mold

By Staff Favorites
Wednesday, February 23, 2005

An occasional column in which staff members share a recipe that we turn to time and again:

If you ask my adult kids what meals they remember fondly from their childhood, high on their list is a classic pie that gets its flavor from a combination of cheddar cheese, onion, herbs and garlic; its crunch from a crust of crispy grated potato, and its heft from an entire cauliflower.

"I never thought I'd like it because it was cauliflower," my daughter, Claire, recalls. "And it was a pie. It didn't make sense. But it was the ultimate comfort food." My son, Jesse, remembers "it was really filling, and you didn't think of vegetables as being filling then."

The dish, from Mollie Katzen's 1977 "Moosewood Cookbook," was not, of course, low-calorie. But I defended it to myself (and still do) on the grounds that an ordinary quiche would have demanded more eggs, more milk and probably bacon, and would therefore have been even richer. It was also a terrific way to serve a non-meat meal.

The pie was a favorite at the Moosewood Restaurant, a natural foods restaurant in Ithaca, N.Y., that Katzen had co-founded.

In those days, a lot of vegetarian cooking still had the aura of Birkenstock sandals and communal living. With its flavorful, sophisticated recipes, "Moosewood Cookbook," and a successor, "The Enchanted Broccoli Forest," changed all that. The large format and appealingly hand-lettered recipes (by Katzen, who didn't have a computer or typewriter at the time) didn't hurt, either. For some reason you didn't feel terrible if you stained it--and that made it easy to find your favorite recipes.

Katzen's later cookbooks revised and modernized some of those recipes to reflect lighter eating habits. But I wouldn't dream of sullying this recipe even further with today's lower-fat cheese or fake eggs. Some things are just too good to tamper with.

Cauliflower-Cheese Pie

Makes a 9-inch pie

This recipe is the leaner version printed in the 1992 edition of "Moosewood Cookbook." The original recipe, to which I hold fast, used whole eggs, 3 tablespoons of butter to saute the vegetables and whole milk. Katzen advises using a food processor with a grating attachment to shred cheese, potato and onion, in that order.

For the crust:

A little oil

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