Purée is not my favorite word. Unless printed on the menu of a five-star joint, it pretty much sends anyone who isn’t in the throes of feeding a barely-toothed child running. And, really, that’s too bad. Because, though it’s true that purées can easily be shared with babies, they are not necessarily baby food.
I know, purées, especially vegetable purées, can be inexplicably unappetizing, at least in theory. I think that it might just be the word. I say call it a “mash” and move on. If that doesn’t work, though, here’s my new trick: Turn it into a custard!
A simple vegetable custard has an irresistibly silky texture that is safe for the earliest eaters and luxurious for grown-ups. It’s nutritious, but also rich in flavor, and, for your pickier eaters, it’s a novel way to serve less accepted (or much loved!) vegetables.
Custards can definitely feel high-maintainance compared to steamed veggies, but they pay off with a much more decadent tasting side dish. The cooking time is mostly unattended, and, though custard is best served immediately, I can attest to the fact that you can make it ahead of time. Undercook the custard by 5 minutes and allow it to cool before covering and storing in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. When it’s time to serve, slowly (ie, in small time increments) reheat the custard in the microwave or place ramekins in a pot of simmering water that comes half way up the side of the ramekins. Leave them in the water bath until warmed through. You don’t have to serve these piping hot.
My latest favorite is this cauliflower custard. I’ve been relying on broccoli way too much—because the kids will reliably eat it—and needed a new way to present cauliflower to the boys. It worked with one and not the other, but such is life. As for the adults, both the husband and I love this, so, if you ask me, this custard is a winner.
Coconut coriander carrots are a more delicious side dish than makes sense. Truly, this purée is so delicious it’s almost weird.
Cauliflower purée, swirled with browned butter, would kick mashed potatoes’ butt if mashed potato had a butt.
4 cups trimmed cauliflower florets
1 1/4 cups milk (I use 2 percent)
1 teaspoon salt
Nutmeg to taste, optional
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Steam the cauliflower until soft and cooked through, about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the cauliflower to cool for about 10 minutes.
2. Transfer cooled cauliflower to a food processor and blend until the florets are completely broken down. Add the milk and continue blending until you get a relatively smooth purée. Pulse in the eggs, salt and nutmeg.
3. Strain the cauliflower purée into a large measuring cup or a bowl with a pour spout, stirring with a rubber spatula to help it flow. Be careful not to press the purée through the strainer; if grains of cauliflower make it through, you’ll end up with a grainy custard. Divide the purée evenly among 6 ovenproof ramekins. Discard the cauliflower remaining in the strainer.
4. Arrange the ramekins in a large roasting pan and place the roasting pan in the oven. Pour boiling water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake in the water bath until the center of the custard just barely jiggles when the pan is shaken, 35 to 40 minutes or cook for just 25 to 30 minutes if you plan on storing the custard to serve on another day.
5. If you want to get fancy, top the custard with bread crumbs that have been toasted in butter or olive oil, but it’s not necessary for a weeknight meal.