There is a passage in The Gastronomical Me I haven’t been able to get out of my head for years. It seems to me there may not be a more perfect meal, and certainly not a better telling:
As I remember, the thing we all liked best, with the salad and Lawrence’s wine, was a casserole of cauliflower, and bread and fruit afterwards. I made it so often that it became as natural as sneezing to me, and I was put off track completely when I got back to America and found how different it was. . .the manner of doing it, the flavor, everything.
There in Dijon, the cauliflowers were small and very succulent, grown in that ancient soil. I separated the flowerlets and dropped them in boiling water for just a few minutes. Then I drained them and put them in a wide shallow casserole, covered them with heavy cream and a thick sprinkling of freshly grated Gruyère, the nice rubbery kind that didn’t come from Switzerland at all, but from the Jura. It was called râpé in the market, and was grated while you watched, in soft cloudy pile, onto your piece of paper.
I put some fresh pepper over the top, and in a way I can’t remember now the little tin oven heated the whole thing and melted the cheese and browned it. As soon as that had happened we ate it.
The cream and cheese had come together into a perfect sauce, and the little flowers were tender and fresh. We cleaned our plates with bits of crisp bread crust and drank the wine, and Al and Lawrence planned to write books about Aristotle and Robinson Jeffers and probably themselves, and I planned a few things, too.
And as I say, once back in California, after so many of those casseroles, I found I could never make one. [. . .] I could concoct a good dish, still. . .but it was never so innocent, so simple. . .and then where was the crisp bread, where the honest wine? And where were our young uncomplicated hungers, too?
Hoping that I am in possession of a young, uncomplicated hunger, I finally set about making my own cauliflower gratin, following Fisher’s narrative recipe, fingers crossed I would find it as magical. My cauliflower isn’t grown in ancient soil, but it is grown in fine organic dirt somewhere upstate. And with what is, for now, an uncomplicated hunger, I think that should more than suffice.