Thursday, November 13, 2008
Peck Nabs Brooklyn "Casserole King" Title With Cauliflower Clincher
Brooklyn is home to many, but there's only one King of Casseroles, and his name is Theodore Peck. On Monday evening in a heated competition, Peck took first place among 28 other casserole contestants in the fourth annual matchup of culinary grit.
EQ caught up with his highness to learn of the savory taste of victory -- and get the winning recipe for Peck's cauliflower, purple potato and bacon casserole.
EQ: When you heard the word "casserole" what was the first thing that popped into your mind?
Ted: Honestly I thought mushroom soup and cheese. You know, like most people try to put as much garbage like mushroom soup and cheese into a casserole. I thought, wow, there's gotta be a way to make it lighter. Casseroles don't need to feel heavy. So I decided to enter the competition with that goal in mind.
EQ: Was there any kind of cuisine or school of cooking in your approach to the casserole?
Ted: Seasonal, as you can imagine someone coming from the school of Dan Barber. I thought to myself, if Dan Barber made a casserole this is what it would be like. There's a different way of thinking about it when you are in a professional kitchen. So then I considered what I've been seeing at the farmer's maket. I've been eating a lot of cauliflower lately -- really digging it -- so I thought: This is it.
EQ: Were there any childhood casserole memories that inspired you?
Ted: What a charming question. I think a lot of people from the mid-west might have that, but I'm from New York, so no. The closest childhood memory I have to a casserole is potato dauphinois (said with tongue firmly in cheek and a French accent). It's sad, but it's actually true.
EQ: What was your reaction when you heard your name called out as the winner?
Ted: I never won anything in my life except for this contest. I think I almost went into cardiac arrest.
EQ: If you were invited to contend in the Iron Chef "casserole" battle, which Iron Chef would you challenge and how do you think you'd fare against him/her?
Ted: If I had to go into a Battle Royale, I think I could kick Bobby Flay's ass. Because I think Bobby Flay would make some mayonnaise-y chipotle casserole. Tostada, cumin, queso fresco -- it would be so easy to predict exactly what he would make. Basically, I think he'd be a dead man. He should just stay at home.
EQ: What's next for the Casserole King of Brooklyn?
Ted: You gotta take it one casserole at a time. But I will tell you this much: I see many culinary competitions out there in the future. I will happily enter into the Fondue Slam -- actually, Fondue Take-down -- in two weeks.
by Theodore Peck
3 to 4 heads Cauliflower (Purple, Cheddar, or Regular)
2 ½ Cups Garlic Cloves, trimmed
1 ½ Cups Olive Oil
1 Lbs Bacon, cut into lardoons
4-6 ea Potatoes, waxy varieties
6 T Parsley, chopped
3 Cups Milk, whole
4 Sprigs Thyme
1 ea Apple, peeled, diced
1 T Honey
1 tsp Nutmeg, fresh grated
2 T Butter
1 to 2 Cups Shredded Cheese, like gruyer
½ Cup Shredded Parmesan
1 Cup Fried Onions
2 Cups Panko Crumbs
2 Cups Phyllo, shredded
Pre-heat oven to 350 and butter your Pyrex dish. Cut Cauliflower into small florets, trimmed of stems and place in large bowl. Take ½ Cup of garlic and slice lengthwise in half.
Place a generous cup of olive oil in a pan with the sliced garlic and heat over a low to medium-low heat until the garlic starts to brown (15 – 20 min).
With slotted spoon, remove garlic from oil (reserve the oil for use in topping) and place in the bowl with Cauliflower along with a couple of tablespoons of garlic oil, splashes of olive oil, kosher salt and pepper, toss, and let sit while you do some other stuff.
Slice the potatoes on a mandolin, not too thin, toss with oil and salt and scallop layer the bottom of your dish. Place in the oven till the potatoes are slightly crisp and brown on top.
Then place the cauliflower in a single layer on a sheet tray, use two if necessary, and roast in the oven until there is some browning, and some moisture has evaporated.
Fry bacon until almost crisp and drain.
To make the garlic cream: Place two cups of garlic cloves in a pot and cover in cold water and bring up to a simmer. Strain the garlic, return it to the pot and cover again in cold water bring to simmer and strain. Strain the garlic, return it to the pot, add the milk, apple, thyme, nutmeg, salt & pepper and bring to a simmer. Let it cool, remove the thyme sprig, and place the rest into a blender along with honey and butter, make a puree…
In large bowl combine the cauliflower, bacon, 3T parsley.
In a large saucepan, heat the garlic puree, add 1T butter, and whisk in 1-2 cups of shredded cheese until smooth and melted. Add the puree to the bowl with the cauliflower and stuff, and mix well. Place the mix into the Pyrex on top of the potatoes. Press the mix into the Pyrex using a spatula.
For the recipe that never ends: Now for the topping. Heat a pan and add 3 T garlic oil, two cups panko crumbs, 1T parsley, and salt. Toss and heat until toasted. Place in a bowl with the fried onions. Heat the pan again add 3T garlic oil, the phyllo, parsley, salt and toss until toasted. Place into the bowl. When the bowl cools, add ½ cup parmesean and toss. Press onto the casserole.
Bake at 350 until crust browns and there is some bubblin’.