Well, I’m one week into a month of the keto diet. What I initially expected to be sheer torture for any foodie – a comparison my SERE-school-trained Marine of a husband would vehemently refute – has turned out to be a bit better than my original assumptions. The key is to steer clear of my favorite bakery that boasts hand-crafted baguettes that almost make you forget you’re not tucked away in a Parisian patisserie.
To be quite honest, the hardest part has been coffee, my daily preference being a simple breve cappuccino with a teaspoon of raw sugar. The answer? Add a teaspoon of ghee and coconut oil, a dash of cinnamon, hatch red chile powder and pink Himalayan sea salt with a healthy dollop of heavy cream – and voila! Cream and cheese are allowed – thank heavens! So, all things considered, everything was going pretty well…until I started craving Italian food. I dreamt of the pillowy majesty of my mascarpone polenta beneath a layer of slow-cooked, savory Tuscan ragu and couldn’t get it out of my mind throughout the entire day. T minus 2 hours from dinnertime, I embarked on an experiment that would either quell my cravings or fail abominably.
I had heard that devoted ketonians felt mashed cauliflower with cheese was a delightful substitute for mashed potatoes, but that particular dish has never been much of an achilles heel for me. Nevertheless, it got me thinking. Mascarpone, a life-long love of mine, is allowed on the diet. So, why not try my recipe with cauliflower as a substitute for the polenta and whip it up with the usual ingredients – mascarpone, butter and cream. The result was more than I could have hoped for. I’ll be stocking my fridge with cauliflower and mascarpone for the duration of this daunting task I’ve set before me.
For the ragu, I had a beautiful rabbit in my freezer that was just hopping at the chance to be eaten. The mirepoix or soffritto (in Italian), which consists of celery, carrot and onion and comprises the base of a traditional ragu, would be a no-go since the carrots are verboten. So, I started thinking in a different direction and opted instead for mushroom, asparagus and pearl onions. The slow-cooked, slightly acidic ragu, spiked with lemon and white wine, made for a marriage of flavors alongside the creamy cauliflower “polenta” that reached sheer nirvana after a week of keto cooking.
Whether you’re on this diet as well or just simply looking to give something new and delicious a whirl, I urge you to try this one. The ragu can be made with anything from veal to lamb to short ribs, but my heart always beats faster for rabbit. Either way, it’s truly a showstopper.
For wine pairings, I would recommend a nice white Burgundy from the Cote de Beaune, a Chenin Blanc from Savennieres or Montlouis, or even a Beaujolais Cru if you’re in the mood for red.
For the Cauliflower “Polenta”:
- 1 head of cauliflower, florets removed from base
- 1/3 cup unsalted butter
- 5 Tb mascarpone cheese
- 1/8 cup heavy cream
- 1 minced garlic clove
- salt and pepper to taste
Although I usually steam or roast my cauliflower, I’m going to suggest a cooking method that I usually abhor, but it really gets the texture just right. Microwave the cauliflower and minced garlic clove, covered, for 5 minutes then microwave an additional 4 minutes uncovered. Pull the cauliflower and garlic from the bowl and toss out the remaining water in the bottom.
I like to layer all the ingredients in my vitamix. Place a small layer of cauliflower in the bottom of your blender then add a helping of salt, pepper, butter and mascarpone and repeat until all the cauliflower is in the blender. Then pour the heavy cream over the top and let it trickle down. Simply blend into a rough puree. Do all of this about 20 minutes before serving for perfect timing.
For the Rabbit Ragu:
- 1 rabbit
- 1/2 lb. of shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 1/2 lb. of white mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 10 pearl onions, peeled and whole
- 4 asparagus spears
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, minced
- 2 strips bacon, cut in lardons (1-inch x 1/4-inch)
- 2 Tb unsalted butter
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- extra-virgin olive oil
- juice of 1/2 a lemon
- 1/8 cup of white wine
- 1 cup chicken stock
- salt and freshly-cracked pepper to taste
Chop the rabbit into 5 parts and dry thoroughly then season with salt and pepper. Coat a dutch oven with olive oil, sprinkle with 1/3 of your rosemary and brown all sides of the rabbit. Pull the rabbit out and set it aside. Add 2 Tb of butter then brown the pearl onions, mushrooms and bacon lardons for a couple minutes. Deglaze the pan with the lemon juice and white wine then add the rabbit. Pour the chicken stock over the ingredients along with the remainder of your rosemary, bring to a gentle boil then place the covered pot in the oven at 325 for 45 minutes.
2 minutes before the timer goes off, add the asparagus to the pot. You want them blanched and crunchy, not soft and drab. Once the ragu is ready, spread the polenta over the center of the plate and ladle your ragu on top.