This time, I'm testing my own mettle in the Food Network's Chopped at Home Challenge, presented by Sargento Cheese. This is a three-round competition, with round 1 involving comfort food, round 2 Mexican food, and round 3 grilled food. This first round, where submissions just closed in, required the use of Sargento Fine Cut Cheddar, Cromini mushrooms, leeks, and cauliflower.
This particular ingredient basket especially excited me because of the mushrooms and leeks - two of my favorite produce ingredients on the planet! Mushrooms have a unique velvety and buttery texture that goes great with the sweetness of sauteed leeks. Both of them also pair especially well with cheese, making it a great fit.
Cauliflower was an interesting choice of ingredient, but I am a huge fan of it, having used it in many sautes and baked dishes in my own apartment. I decided to go for a thick, cheesy soup with the cauliflower as a great comfort dish. I then dotted it with stuffed mushrooms filled with the mushroom stalks, leeks, cheddar, and pancetta (one of my favorite all-time ingredients). The result was a smoky, salty, rich, and amazing experience that is worthy of being one of my first Chopped contest submissions!
Recipe Serves 2 people.
For the Soup:
3/4 head cauliflower, broken up into florets
2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons Cheddar Cheese
2 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper to season
Diced Roma Tomato, Chives, Paprika, and Cayenne pepper to garnish
For the Mushrooms:
1 Leek, finely chopped
8 Cromini mushrooms
2-3 oz pancetta, diced
2 tablespoons Cheddar cheese
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp paprika
2 tsp black pepper
Parmesan Cheese to grate on top (any hard cheese is great, I went with a Sarvecchio cheese)
1) Bring the chicken stock up to a boil on high heat in a pot. Add in your cauliflower florets, and turn to a medium heat. Cover and steam for 15 minutes.
2) While the cauliflower cooks, remove the stalks from your mushrooms and diced them, along with 2 of the cromini mushroom caps. Make sure the leeks and pancetta are also diced at this point.
3) Blend the cauliflower and half of the chicken stock along with the butter, cheddar, garlic, and seasoning. Set aside.
4) Add the pancetta to a dry pan on medium high heat and render out the fat. This should take around 5 minutes.
5) Drain any excess fat and return the pancetta to the pan. Add in your mushrooms and leeks, and season with the cayenne, paprika, and black pepper. Saute for 5 minutes or until the mushrooms go brown and the leeks are soft.
6) Take off of the heat and quickly stir in the cheddar cheese. Place your 6 remaining mushroom caps on a baking sheet lined with tin foil. Season the inside of the caps with salt and pepper, then add in the leek and mushroom mixture. Grate Parmesan over the top, then broil for 5 minutes in a salamander, toaster oven, or oven.
7) To serve, ladle the cauliflower soup into a bowl, and top with a dash of cayenne and paprika. Add in 3 mushrooms, and sprinkle the diced tomato and chives over the top.
This dish is very rich but has a great variety of flavors. From smokiness in the pancetta and paprika, to a light amount of heat from the cayenne, earthiness of the mushrooms and cauliflower, to the savory cheese and acidity of the tomato, everything plays together in a great, comforting balance. This is a low-carb, classed-up version of comfort food!
If you liked this recipe, please give it a vote here! I would love to win this round and move on to the finals, and you all can make that happen! Thanks, and enjoy! =)