The cauliflower trend in the food world caught my attention, and it’s worthy of yours, too. You replace everything from potatoes to flour with this pretty unassuming vegetable to create lower carb and more nutritious dishes. I’m all for making meals healthier as long as the flavor isn’t compromised, and discovered some really amazing ways people are using cauliflower as a surprisingly versatile, adaptable and delicious solution.
Locally grown cauliflower is abundant at the farmers markets this time of year, so now’s the time explore. I first heard of this cauliflower craze as an alternative form of pizza crust. To make this dough, you first make cauliflower “rice.” The basic process begins with washing and drying a head of cauliflower and separating out the florets. Then pulse them in a food processor for a short time to achieve something akin to raw rice. Boil the pieces 4-5 minutes, strain, then press out as much water as possible (a thin towel or cheesecloth works well).
Mix the cauliflower rice with egg (to help bind), herbs and Italian cheeses such as mozzarella and Parmesan. Flatten this dough into a round and bake it for 20 minutes or so. From there, treat it just like a pizza crust, covered with sauce, cheese, and toppings then baked again.
There are many other ways to use this cauliflower dough. I’ve seen recipes for bread sticks, tortillas, and even hot pockets. As with most substitutes, cauliflower is not an equal replacement for wheat flour in all things, however, it’s a great alternative to traditional crust for someone with a gluten intolerance or who is watching carb intake.
Backing up a bit, ricing cauliflower is a super way to prepare this vegetable in general, using it as you would use rice or pasta. Epicurious.com has a thorough break down of different cooking methods for cauliflower rice. Once cooked, it’s an easy replacement in everything from Mexican rice to fried rice with a low carb, high fiber price tag.
Cauliflower also is a great replacement for, or addition to, potatoes. Cook, mash or roast it in pieces just like you would for potatoes. As a member of the super-healthy cruciferous vegetables—along with broccoli, cabbage and kale—cauliflower does have that distinct “sulfur” smell. But that flavor mellows greatly when cauliflower is cooked, and makes for a wonderful blank canvas for all those other flavors you might otherwise add to traditional mashed potatoes. Shepard’s pie, perhaps?
One of my favorite ideas for replacing potatoes with cauliflower is to thicken soups. I’m a huge fan of creamy soups but they can pack a calorie punch. By using cauliflower instead of cream or potatoes, I can have my soup and eat it too. Simply add cauliflower mash or puree to a pot of soup at the end, or add cooked cauliflower to soup then use an immersion blender to puree it all together.
And finally, whatever you do with cauliflower, you must try roasted cauliflower with pasta. Cut apart the florets into thumb-size pieces or smaller, toss with a bit of olive oil, then roast on a baking sheet at 425° for about 20–30 minutes until the edges are nicely caramelized. Toss these beauties into cooked, short-sized pasta (penne works well) with plenty of parmesan cheese, seasonings and herbs. Bake for about 15 minutes to melt it all together.
Cauliflower Pizza Crust
From my experience, the key to a crispy thin crust is to ring out the cooked cauliflower thoroughly. If too much moisture remains, the crust won’t crisp up properly. Preheating the baking sheet also helps but is not a necessary step.
1 small head cauliflower, cut into smallish pieces (approx. 2-3 cups)
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1 cup shredded parmesan
½ Tbsp. oregano, dried
½ Tbsp. basil, dried
½ Tbsp. thyme, dried
½ Tbsp. parsley, dried
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 425°. As you prepare the cauliflower, place a baking sheet in the oven and heat a large pot with about 1 inch of water.
Pulse cauliflower in a food processor until riced—very small pieces that resemble rice. Add cauliflower to boiling water and cook 4-5 minutes. Drain in a strainer. Transfer cauliflower rice to a thin clean towel or cheesecloth. Wrap the towel around the rice and ring out excess water. The more thorough the better.
Place cauliflower rice in a large bowl and combine with all other ingredients to form the dough.
Remove baking sheet from oven and line with parchment paper. Place the dough on the paper, and, pressing with your hands, form into a flat, round or square, taking care to create even thickness, especially in the middle. Bake in oven for 20 minutes or so until crust is golden and crisp.
Remove from oven. Add your favorite pizza sauce, toppings, and cheese, then bake an additional 10 minutes or so, until cheese is melted and toppings are hot.