My husband and I spent our first years together, more than a decade and a half ago, wandering the country. For me sometimes revisiting places I had been to, for him learning what this land of ours has to offer: From pristine white sand beaches to the highest mountains in the region, from tropical deserts to temperate climates.
More than two decades later we are retracing our steps and visiting and revisiting parts of this country that deserve to be known better, this time with the added bonus of showing our nearly-7 year old daughter things that she will remember for a long time herself.
And that’s how after a long, meandering trip (of which I will write more about later) we ended up in Constanza, the beautiful hidden valley that seems to belong to another place, another time.
If you are having a feeling of Deja Vu it is because I wrote about Constanza not long ago (and will again soon), this prompted me to convince my husband and child to visit (or re-visit, in my case) beautiful Constanza. This visit did not disappoint.
We were at times so impressed, so awestricken, that we might have uttered a few words in front of our child that we would normally never use. Luckily she seemed deaf to them, seeing with wonder some of the most beautiful places we have taken her.
Coming from sun-scorched PuntaCana (with temperatures maxing in the mid-30s ºC or mid 90s ºF these days) we were ready for a respite from the heat, boy, did Constanza deliver! The valley, as we were informed by more than one person, was going through a heat wave, which prompted my question “When you say “hot”, what exactly do you mean?”. The answer was that the temperature had risen to 25 degrees, in June!
Meh! I wake up to higher temperatures in PuntaCana. It was early in the afternoon and a chilly but confortable 68 ºF / 20 ºC welcomed us. It was like stepping into another hemisphere in just an hour drive. As the foggy day gave way to cold night (60.8 °F / 14 ºC that night), I sipped a delicious ginger tea (after a dinner that included a cream of celery root) in the terrace overlooking fields at the feet of the mountains. Such quiet and serene night.
That night after turning myself into a ball under the many blankets I had the best night sleep in a long time.
“But this is a food blog. Talk about food, caramba!”. Hey, Constanza is all about food too!
This is an agricultural town, and everywhere you turn you will be reminded of it. There is a growing field everywhere, from the city to the most implausible mountainsides (how do they get there?). Not only is the soil in Constanza dark and rich, it is its unusual status as the Caribbean’s coldest spot that makes it so important for our food supply.
While you will see in Constanza crops that are also grown elsewhere in the country (like onions) you will find here a selection of decidedly-not-tropical crops: garlic, peaches, potatoes, strawberries, etc. We stopped at farms, inquired about the “odd-looking” plants, and once again proved my ignorance of all-things nature when my husband tried to explain why it is not possible for me to grow strawberries in PuntaCana (“you’d have to keep it in an air-conditioned ‘sun room’”). Oh well.
The pictures above are fields of carrots and cauliflower, tucked into some hidden, hard-to-reach spots through bumpy roads. Everywhere we went people were incredibly sweet and helpful with “the outsiders” (their term*), even if I sure looked like a wild-eyed idiot, probably asking the same inane questions that they had heard hundreds of times before from some equally-clueless outsiders.
My daughter didn’t want to come back home. Probably on account of the temperatures alone; she has viking blood in her and she is no fan of the heat. I didn’t want to come back either (you will hear more about our trips), I can perfectly see myself spending every summer that we are not abroad looking at those beautiful mountains and eating freshly-picked food. Ah, to dream!
But let’s talk about this dish.
When Sargento suggested I created recipes inspired by theirs (which I have done before) this one caught my eye. I have made some really big changes to it, but the main idea of a creamy broccoli dish topped with delicious melted cheddar remains. I have just made it a little healthier.
Broccoli, carrots, milk, onions, garlic, parsley, all products of the beautiful hidden valley. But even if you cannot get yours from there, it doesn’t matter, just imagine yourself in Constanza while chewing this creamy wonder. Sargento® Shredded Reduced Sodium Mild Cheddar Cheese is the perfect finishing touch for it.
We had this as a late lunch (or “dunch” as we call it), something we do a lot in the summer, when things move slowly for us on account of the heat, and I refuse to spend too much time in the kitchen. I served it with just bread, but this makes a perfect side dish for BBQs. The cheese will convince even the most reluctant child that this is a dish worth digging into.
Grown ups will need no convincing after the first bite.
A creamy, filling easy to make, quick and healthy cauliflower gratin. What else can we ask from a dish? Try this cheese-topped hotpot that will convince big and small to dig in.
- 2 medium-sized heads of cauliflower, separated into florets
- 2 cups of Sargento® Shredded Reduced Sodium Mild Cheddar Cheese
- 2 large white onions, cut into cubes
- 2 large carrots, cut into slices
- 4 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
- 2 tablespoon of parsley, minced
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 cups of low-fat milk
- 3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
- In a deep pot boil the carrots in abundant water for 5 minutes.
- Add a teaspoon of salt and add the cauliflower.
- Boil for 3 minutes, or after the cauliflower changes colors and immediately after remove from the hot water (do not overcook, they have to be tender but firm). Reserve.
- Heat the olive oil over very low heat in a oven-safe skillet.
- Add the onion and garlic and cook for 3 minutes or until onions become transparent, stir often to cook uniformly.
- Add the carrot and cauliflower and increase heat to medium. Cook and stir until all the ingredients are heated-through.
- Sift the flower into the pan, stir until there is no more "raw" flour on sight.
- Add the milk and mix. Simmer until the milk turns into a creamy sauce.
- Add the parsley and mix well.
- Remove from the heat and sprinkle with the cheese.
- Put under broiler for to 2 minutes or until the cheese melts or browns (depending on your preference).
- Serve as a side dish to grilled meat, or as a light meal with some rustic bread.
If you follow a gluten-free diet you can use cornstarch in place of flour. The flavor and texture is a bit different, but the main flavors remain the same.
*Los de afuera
This post was sponsored by Sargento. I received compensation to create this recipe and post, but the opinions are 100% mine and were not vetted or changed by the sponsor.