It’s picnic season! I knock on wood as I say this, but Portland has really been delivering some fine spring weather this year, and I can’t wait to keep our outdoor time at its maximum level. Playing outdoors, eating outdoors, sleeping outdoors—it’s all in our future.
My love of picnics is no secret, but I do sometimes wonder how I can shake up our picnic spreads without diverting too much from what makes a picnic meal so enjoyable for me. Picnics are casual affairs for us, without a reliance on silverware or fussy presentations. While we do sometimes pack a picnic that includes a salad or two thrown into a lidded container, it seems almost antithetical to the very spirit of a picnic to make your food fork or spoon-required. This means our picnics tend to include a lot of cheese selections to pair with bread, a good amount of fruit and vegetables in their most casual form, and, of course, a treat or two…or three…oh, fine to round out the meal. It’s a lovely way to eat, but, tough as it may be to imagine, even I, at times, get a bit overloaded by cheese and sweets.
Last week, when thinking of ways to diversify our picnics, I started dreaming of my favorite white bean spread. It’s a nearly perfect item to slather over a hunk of crusty bread, and, with silky pureed cauliflower swapped in for the creamy white beans, I began to imagine a new picnic food to audition this year. As it turns out, this combination of sweetly sautéed onions, fresh herbs, and smooth cauliflower is even better than I thought it would be. It’s even better, dare I say it, than cheese. For your friends who are allergic to legumes, it makes a great alternative to hummus or other bean spreads. For your vegetarian friends, it’s a super flavorful topping for bread that needs no meat to make it shine. For your vegan friends, try swapping the butter for ¼ cup of good olive oil, and sauté the onions and garlic slowly, until they begin to really melt. For everyone, make a batch of this right now, grab yourself a picnic blanket and a baguette, and head outside.
1 medium head of cauliflower
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons fresh garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, finely chopped
2 pinches red chile flakes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Trim cauliflower of leaves and tough inner stem. Cut cauliflower into small florets, then place in a steamer basket. Over a pot of boiling water, cover and steam cauliflower florets for 10 to 12 minutes, until the florets are tender. Remove steamer basket from pot, and allow cauliflower to cool a bit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
In separate saucepan, melt butter over medium low heat, then add onions, garlic, herbs, and chile flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent about 7 to 10 minutes. Add steamed cauliflower. Mash or puree with a food processor or stick blender until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove to a dish or bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and serve with crusty bread.