I Had An Ina Garten-Inspired Dinner Party and This Was, by Far, the Most-Loved Dish

Ina Garten's cauliflower toasts were the surprise hit at an all-Ina-themed dinner party.

a photo of Ina Garten

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For years, my friends and I have been hosting semiregular "supper club" gatherings, which are essentially fancy, themed potlucks. We take turns selecting a cookbook, cuisine or chef to inspire our menu, and each person contributes a dish or two to create a truly spectacular multicourse meal, from cocktails to dessert. Over the years, we’ve cooked dishes from Yotam Ottolenghi, Alison Roman and Melissa Clark, to name a few. And during the height of the pandemic when we were all quarantining, we shifted to create what I now look back on as one of my most memorable friendship memories by each prepping four family-size servings of a dish that we then swapped with each other to make up our Christmas dinner sides. We bundled up in warm winter gear, gathered outside, and exchanged our dishes while sipping luxe hot chocolate. It was the first time we’d seen each other in person in almost a year. While we couldn’t celebrate the holidays in supper-club fashion, our families still shared a meal together while on our own.

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Our latest supper club was in my friend’s modern, lofty, dine-in kitchen. Since we lean toward cooking from whoever feels exciting, current and innovative in the moment, we thought it best to go back to a chef whose work transcends time. Of course, we immersed ourselves in the world of Ina Garten, carefully curating a menu that showcased her signature flavors and techniques. Opening with her batched pomegranate gimlets and an artful and inspired cheese plate, the night would be off to a great start. How easy is that? Then moving on to her legendary “perfect” roast chicken, Parmesan-roasted broccoli and her warm fig and arugula salad, we crafted a spread that would make the Barefoot Contessa proud. And me, a little apprehensive. Let me explain.

Skepticism and I are old friends, especially when it comes to recipes that seem a little too restrained for my adventurous palate. So as we texted, virtually planning the menu, there was one dish, in particular, that I was really not looking forward to—Ina’s cauliflower toasts. I’m sorry, Ina! I love cauliflower in many forms, and I eat it regularly.

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But I braced myself for disappointment. The idea of combining it with more savory ingredients, or ingredients that I consider to be bland (Gruyère—don’t come at me!) or overbearing (hello, nutmeg!), really didn't appeal to me. I much prefer cauliflower, and all the other brassicas, to be brightened up with hard hits of acid or spice and bold, overly confident flavors. And if I’m being honest, I was a little disenchanted about the idea of this dish serving as our starch. My crystal ball must have been in for repairs, though, because, oof, was I wrong—this unassuming appetizer was about to stop me in my smug tracks. 

At the risk of sounding dramatic, as soon as I took my first bite of these crispy, rich toasts, I felt like I’d been woken up out of a daze. And, in a way, I was. I’d anticipated something overdone and boring, but tasting them firsthand felt like a new culinary experience. The combination of ingredients, flavors and textures were perfectly complementary and uplifting to one another. The cauliflower toasts were—dare I say it?—a revelation.

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The roasted cauliflower florets were infused with a subtle heat from the crushed red pepper, while the creamy mascarpone and melty Gruyère provided a decadent richness. The prosciutto added a savory contrast, and even the nutmeg brought a subtle warmth that tied everything together. Yet even as I write this story, with the lived experience of (literally) eating half the plate, I still can’t quite believe that this dish was as good as it was. Unpacking this, I think that deeply encoded into my brain is the belief that these ingredients, in combination with one another, lack excitement. But the truth is, their combination of creamy, earthy, salty, crispy and sweet is wildly satisfying, with each element working in harmony to create an unexpected winner. 

Because I know you’ll be saving these on your “to make” list, I want to let you in on how easy they are to pull together. You'll start by roasting cauliflower florets with olive oil, chile flakes and salt and pepper until they're tender and browned. Then mix them in a bowl with creamy mascarpone, nutty Gruyère, thin slices of salty prosciutto and a touch of nutmeg. Trust the process. Spoon that goodness onto generous slices of toasted country-style bread, hit it with paprika, and broil until bubbly. Transfer the toasts to a plate and finish with fresh Parm, chives and a sprinkling of flaky salt. Voilà! Ina's ridiculously delicious cauliflower toasts!

Pushing aside my broccoli and chicken to make room on my plate for more toasts, it soon became clear that I wasn't the only one smitten with these cheesy tartines. As we lingered over Ina's dark chocolate tart and post-dinner drinks, swapping stories and savoring every last bite, my fellow supper clubbers and I talked about our favorite dishes of the night. To my surprise, the cauliflower toasts emerged as the unanimous sleeper hit of the entire party—even making its way back into our text thread later with one friend saying, and I quote, “Omg the cauliflower toasts!!!!!!! That recipe was 🔥🔥🔥” If that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is.

If there's one lesson I learned from this Ina Garten-inspired dinner party, it's to never underestimate the power of a seemingly simple dish. And also, that it’s a waste of time to ever be skeptical of Ina. These cauliflower toasts, with their perfect balance of flavors and textures, proved to be the ultimate crowd-pleaser—a testament to Ina's culinary genius and a reminder to always keep an open mind (and an open palate) when it comes to trying new recipes.

The next time you're planning a dinner party or just craving a standout appetizer, make these cauliflower toasts. They're sure to be the star of the show, just as they were at our Ina-inspired supper club.

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