Small, Good Things: Cracking the Code

By Joe Dizney

If you haven’t heard, there‘s a new restaurant in Beacon — Kitchen Sink (157 Main St.; — and it’s a welcomed addition to our burgeoning culinary scene. The inventive, eclectic menu reflects Dutchess Country-native chef Brian Arnoff’s wide range of cooking experiences — from Boston (at Beard Award-winner Baravara Lynch’s Sportello), to Italy, and on to his most recent success, in Washington, D.C., with CapMac, a macaroni-and-cheese themed food truck!

But Arnoff’s heart and soul are firmly grounded in local, seasonal and regional cooking and Kitchen Sink is a return to his Hudson Valley roots, a farm-to-table operation prominently featuring produce from his family’s Hyde Park-based Truckload Farm and Orchard.

And there’s something for everyone on the menu: Grandma’s brisket grilled cheese sandwiches; a lovely porgy filet, chicken pie; a unique take on lamb-stuffed eggplant; even a Vietnamese-inflected skirt steak. The dish that continually catches my eye (and fires my imagination) is, surprisingly, a gluten-free, vegan take on risotto, made from cauliflower.

I say “surprisingly” because, if you have followed the trajectory of Small, Good Things, you’ll know that I am a confirmed omnivore. Just a whiff of terms like “gluten-free” and “vegan” normally have me running for the hills, because I’m sure I’m going to be missing out on something.

But, in the by-now four iterations of this meal that I’ve sampled, I can’t say I’ve been left wanting anything but more. The plate Arnoff serves is decked out with a roasted mushroom mélange, carrots in “escabeche,” kale crisps and crunchy toasted pumpkin seeds. It’s a masterful mix of colors, flavors and textures. The star of the plate is the creamy “faux risotto,” which unbelievably tastes like it contains about a half-pound of butter and/or cream and cheese.

“Real” risotto, which is made from high-starch, short-grain varieties of rice, is cooked in oil or butter and stock, a process that breaks down the starchy outer layer of the grains and creates a smooth, creamy “sauce” for the al dente grains of rice. It is invariably finished off with more butter, and cheese. This is of course delicious in its myriad manifestations, but also tends to be seriously high in both fats and carbohydrates.

Cauliflower “risotto”       (Photo by J. Dizney)

Cauliflower “risotto” (Photo by J. Dizney)

Kitchen Sink’s faux risotto manages to feature that same creamy richness and “tooth,” but the harder I’ve tried to weasel the recipe from Arnoff and his sous Marc Rosenberg (who seems to be the man with the secrets), the more adamant they’ve become about not revealing its mysteries. This column is my attempt to crack the code on my own.

A Google search reveals a multitude of variations on the theme, most built around a sautéed preparation of grated (or “riced”) florets of cauliflower. While this is a fine solution, unadulterated it lacks the unctuous texture of the real deal. I settled on a combination of the basic sauté and an emulsion of puréed cauliflower, bolstered by a handful of toasted walnuts (to add a bit more body), a splash of lemon juice and a drizzle of oil (here, walnut oil, but olive would do) to up the (healthy) fat quotient.

(Note: I also added a tablespoon of nutritional yeast which more than one recipe suggested as a cheese facsimile. And it worked, to an extent. But beware: overdoing it could nudge the dish dangerously close to the 1960s-’70s stereotype of hippie health food.)

In my test kitchen, I wanted to showcase the risotto itself and it proved a success served to my neighbors with simple roasted (hen-of-the-woods) mushrooms and a garnish of chopped walnuts and parsley — the version shown here.

If I were to extrapolate, I would suggest treating this faux risotto just like the alternative—primarily as the ground for more assertive flavors. May I suggest a Milanese version with peas and saffron (maybe substituting pine nuts for the walnuts)? Or perhaps topped with an Indian curry of say, chick peas or lentils and spinach? How about about a tomato-based or Romesco-sauced plate?

Almost anything will do — and there’s still the Kitchen Sink!

Cauliflower “Risotto”

Serves two as a main course, four as a side dish

1 large head of white cauliflower (See prep note below.)
2 large shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of 1 large lemon
½ cup chopped walnuts, toasted
¼ cup walnut oil
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
½ cup vegetable stock
Salt and white pepper
Chopped parsley for garnish

For the cauliflower purée:

In a large skillet, sauté ½ of the shallots and garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat until just soft and transparent. Set aside.

Steam cook about 1/3 of the cauliflower, either stovetop or in a microwave, until thoroughly cooked and relatively soft.

In a blender, pulse the yeast and ¼ cup of the walnuts until powdery. Add the steamed cauliflower, sautéed shallot-garlic mixture, walnut oil and a couple of tablespoons of the lemon juice; purée until smooth. You want a relatively runny purée— add lemon juice or vegetable broth and walnut oil as necessary to reach desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground white pepper. Keep warm.

For the “risotto”:

In the same skillet, over medium heat, sauté remaining shallots and garlic until soft. Add remainder of the grated cauliflower and a splash of vegetable stock to moisten. Cook, stirring 3 to 4 minutes until “al dente.”

Add cauliflower purée; stir to reheat and incorporate 1 to 2 minutes. Thin with more stock if necessary and season to taste with salt, pepper and a bit more lemon juice.

Serve immediately simply garnished with the remaining walnuts and parsley or with a topping of your choice and an additional drizzle of oil.

Prep note: Trim the cauliflower into smallish florets, trimming the harder, thick stems into half-inch chunks. Grate by hand or with the grating disc of a food processor to a rice-like texture. Do not overprocess.

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