Tess Arntsen, executive chef of Small Kitchen Big Taste in North Haven, brings us this plant-based side with a bit of a kick. "It’s a warm and comforting vegetable-based dish, but with a Southern barbecue twist to keep things fresh," she says. "I trained in New Orleans, and I’m often inspired by those flavors. It’s filling and hearty for any vegetarians at your table, as well." Since prep time always runs short, Arntsen tells us, this dish is good for harried hosts who want to get an early start on the cooking: "Lots of components can be done ahead of time."

Roasted cauliflower steak (BBQ sauce, warm cabbage slaw, creamy polenta, fried pickled shallots) Chef Tess Arntsen (8).jpg

Roasted barbecue cauliflower with creamy cheddar polenta and pickled shallots

Serves: 6-8

Prep time: 1½ hours

Note: All components can be made ahead of time except the polenta

INGREDIENTS

Cauliflower

  • 1 cauliflower head cut into florets
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2-3 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

Barbecue rub (recipe makes extra; save for something else)

  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon coriander

Barbecue sauce (recipe makes extra; save for something else)

  • 1 small medium onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 1-2 teaspoons chili flakes (depending on desired spice level)
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • ½ cup molasses
  • ¼ cup honey 
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • Dash or two of Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Pickled shallots

  • 3 shallots, thinly sliced
  • ¼ sugar
  • ¼ water
  • ¼ cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Polenta

  • 3 cups water
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup instant polenta
  • ½ cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • ½ cup goat cheese
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup cubed cold butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Make the cauliflower & barbecue rub

Roast cauliflower on a sheet tray with barbecue rub, salt, and extra virgin olive oil at 425 degrees until crispy and golden brown, about 25 minutes.

Make the barbecue sauce

In a large pot, sauté onion and garlic in oil until soft on medium heat. Add paprika and chili flakes, cook until fragrant. Add in all other ingredients, stir, and let simmer on low heat for an hour. Taste and adjust seasonings as you prefer. Goal is a shiny, thick sauce. 

Make the pickled shallots

Bring liquids to boil. Pour over sliced shallots, cover, let cool and refrigerate.

Make the polenta

Bring water and milk to boil on the stovetop in a large pot. Slowly whisk in polenta, and continue whisking for 3-5 minutes until it thickens and polenta is cooked. Reduce heat to low, add in cheeses. Slowly whisk in cubed cold butter. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately with cauliflower and garnishes.

Assemble the dish

Pour polenta into a large serving bowl. Make a well in the center for barbecue sauce. Top with cauliflower, and drizzle more sauce. Garnish with pickled shallots.


Q&A with Chef Tess Arntsen

Chef Tess Arntsen (2).jpg

Tess Arntsen, executive chef of Small Kitchen Big Taste in North Haven

How did you first get into cooking?

I have always loved food, and been inspired by my family. My mom cooked dinner every night when I was young and always cooked for all the holidays. After studying abroad in Italy during college, I knew I wanted to go to culinary school. The rest is history!

What’s your fondest memory of a holiday meal?

Every year my family and I make a big deal of planning our Thanksgiving menu. We love turning the holiday leftovers into a multiple-day feast. The connection, family time, and nostalgic dishes that bring so much joy really make holidays special.

Tips on using local ingredients in holiday meals?

Order poultry from local farms, hit up farmers markets in your neighborhood to get inspired by the seasonal produce, artisan breads, and local cheeses. Just the farmers market trip is a wonderful holiday tradition in and of itself.

When preparing a holiday feast, is it better to be a traditionalist or an innovator?

It’s great to start with the traditional flavors and dishes, and experiment with one or two of the classics to come up with new ways to enjoy. But preserving the comfort and nostalgic feelings from a holiday meal is so important. Worst case, if your innovation flops, your family or close friends will forgive you!

Tess Arntsen on Instagram: @smallkitchen_bigtaste and @arntsent

This article appears in the November 2020 issue of Connecticut MagazineYou can subscribe to Connecticut Magazine here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get our latest and greatest content delivered right to your inbox. Have a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com. And follow us on Facebook and Instagram @connecticutmagazine and Twitter @connecticutmag.