Food: Cauliflower twice-baked sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes stuffed with cheesy, roasted cauliflower make a quick and easy vegetarian dinner. PHOTO CREDIT: Gretchen McKay Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Like a lot of runners, I ate a lot of sweet potatoes back when I was training for distance events that required a diet full of healthy carbs and muscle-loving antioxidants.

Even now that I don’t run so long or so far, I still love the orange-fleshed tubers because they’re so easy to prepare, play well with other ingredients and are a relatively inexpensive source of stuff that’s good for the body such as beta carotene and vitamin C.

Usually, it’s enough to simple-slice them into fat wedges and then roast in a hot oven with a little salt and paprika. When I’m in the mood for something a little more filling but still vegetarian, I mash the insides after baking and slicing the potatoes in half, add some spices and other ingredients, and then spoon the mashed filling back inside the shells for a second bake.

Maybe you’re training for a marathon or simply like the idea of eating vegetarian on occasion. This double-baked sweet potato, full of caramelized, roasted cauliflower with a cheesy sauce on top, will help you get started.

I adapted the recipe from Deb Perelman’s new cookbook, “Smitten Kitchen Keepers,” to ingredients I already had on hand by swapping sweet potatoes for russets and using red onion instead of leeks. I also seasoned the potatoes with a generous (but optional) pinch of paprika to add a slightly smoky flavor, and dusted the bronzed and bubbly dish with some grated Parmesan for a salty finish.

The potatoes make a perfect side dish on these last chilly evenings of winter, or when paired with a big green salad, a satisfying lunch or supper. Any leftover cheese sauce is great for another runners’ favorite: nachos or tacos.

Roasted Cauliflower Stuffed Potatoes

Servings: 6.

3 large sweet potatoesOlive oil, for pan1 large head cauliflower, broken or cut into small floretsKosher salt and freshly ground black pepperSmoked sweet paprika, optional4 tablespoons unsalted butter


cup minced red onion, divided4 tablespoons flour1 teaspoon Dijon or honey mustardGround cayenne, or dash of chili-flavored olive oil, optional1½ -2 cups whole or low-fat milk1½ cups shredded sharp cheddar, plus a little more for garnishGrated Parmesan cheese, for dusting

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Scrub potatoes, then pierce all over with a fork. Rub with 1 tablespoon olive oil, then place on the oven rack and bake until they are tender in the center when pierced, about 1 hour.

While potatoes are baking, prepare cauliflower. Place florets in a large bowl, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper and as much, or little, smoked paprika as you like. Toss again to combine. Place florets on a baking sheet and roast in oven with potatoes until tender and nicely browned on the edges, about 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool while potatoes continue cooking.

Meanwhile, make the cheese sauce. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add most of the minced red onion, and saute until translucent, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add flour and whisk to combine, then cook for about 1 minute while continuing to whisk to get rid of the floury taste. Add mustard and a pinch of cayenne (or chili oil), along with a pinch of salt and good grind of black pepper, and stir to combine.

Stir in the milk, a little at a time, while whisking to make sure there are no lumps. Bring mixture to a simmer, stirring with a spoon, until sauce thickens. Stir in cheese, a little at a time, and whisk to combine. Taste and add additional seasonings, if needed. Cover to keep warm.

Once potatoes are ready, slice them in half. Scrape out the insides into a mixing bowl, being careful not to tear the shell. (Leave a small rim of potato intact for support.) Lay the hollowed-out potato shells on a baking sheet.

Mash the potatoes in the bowl, then stir in about 1 cup of roasted cauliflower. Fill the potato shells with the filling. Spoon cheese sauce over the potatoes (as much or little as you like — you will have more than you need), then top with remaining roasted cauliflower florets. Sprinkle some grated cheddar cheese on top of potatoes, along with grated Parmesan cheese.

Return to oven to cook until the cauliflower topping is brown and cheese is melted, about 5-7 minutes.

Serve, with minced red onion on top, if desired.

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