Before all the mustaches moved to town, a pioneering chef named Margot McCormack opened a cozy little restaurant in Five Points serving comforting Southern French and Italian peasant dishes. That was 13 years ago. Margot Café was pretty much the only reason anyone crossed over the Cumberland for a meal. Today she’s the grand dame of trendy East Nashville in a corral of pig tattoos.
The menus as Margot Café and its nearby European-style café sister, Marche Artisan Foods, present straightforward, thoughtful seasonal cooking. Encouraged by vegetarian members of the team, Margot makes it a point to always offer a meatless entrée featuring local produce and interesting grains, like the crowd-pleasing Winter White Plate – roasted cauliflower polenta. Great for cold weather, creamy, rich Tennessee polenta is topped with oven-roasted cauliflower, crumbled Gorgonzola, toasted hazelnuts and parsley or fresh herb garnish. It’s a great recipe for home cooks as a meatless entrée or as a hearty side to a winter braise, oven roast chicken or simply grilled meats.
Chef Margot sources her stone-ground polenta and grits, rich with deep whole corn flavor, from Falls Mill in Belvidere, TN, and they are for sale at Marche Artisan Foods. She advises cooking the Tennessee polenta low and slow, at least an hour, unlike the quick cooking polenta most of us will find in the supermarket. She also urges home cooks to take care cutting the cauliflower into attractive florets, not roughly chopped pieces, and opt for a chunk of Parm and grate it yourself.
- 1 cup polenta, wholegrain stone-ground, if possible
- About 1 cup cream (half and half to heavy, you choose)
- ¼ cup butter (1/2 a stick)
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 large head cauliflower
- Olive oil
- 2 to 4 ounces crumbled Gorgonzola or other blue cheese
- About ½ cup toasted hazelnuts or walnuts, coarsely chopped
- Chopped fresh parsley
Cook the polenta according to the package directions substituting cream for about ¼ of the water. Cook until creamy and smooth, stirring frequently.
Stir in the butter and Parmesan cheese. Add salt, to taste. Keep warm on the stove.
While the polenta cooks, heat the oven to 450° F.
Cut the cauliflower into bite-size florets. Spread them on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Roast the cauliflower about 30 minutes or until tender, but not mushy, with nicely browned edges. To serve, plate individual servings by spooning the polenta into a bowl. Top with cauliflower. Sprinkle with Gorgonzola, nuts, and parsley. Or, serve family-style, plating all the components as above on a large platter.
Makes 4 main or 6 side servings.