By Gretchen McKay


2015’s new kid on the block: Cauliflower

Categories : Food
Cauliflower Parmesan/Gretchen McKay

Trends are a peculiar thing, especially when you live in a city that doesn’t exactly shape the zeitgeist. (Sorry, Pittsburgh, but you know it’s true.) Somebody somewhere decides something is the Next Big Thing, and even though you might have previously been totally clueless, suddenly you’ve also got to have it, do it, see it.

Call it the lemming effect.

It’s especially weird when it comes to food. Each new year, the foodie powers-that-be come up with a list of hot culinary treats all the cool kids have discovered. Last year, for example, kale ruled supreme. No matter that the cruciferous vegetable (in my and many others’ opinion) doesn’t taste all that great — in 2014, you couldn’t escape it.  Kale salad. Kale chips. Even kale smoothies, chocolate chip cookies and ice cream. Even McDonald’s has jumped on board: Earlier this month, the fast-food giant announced plans to add kale as an ingredient in a to-be-named product at some restaurants later this year.

Cool cats, though, are fickle.

Cauliflower has stolen the spotlight from kale as the hot new food of 2015.

If you’re thinking, “God, no! Not that brain-like cabbage my Nana used to stink up the house with!” you might be in for a surprise. Turns out that like last year’s leafy cousin, cauliflower is incredibly versatile.

No longer relegated raw to the relish tray, the creamy-white veggie — part of the Brassica oleraceafamily — can be grated into a dough for pizza (you bind it with cheese and egg), be mashed like potatoes and be diced and fried with onion as hash. I’ve also seen recipes for cauliflower mac ’n’ cheese, cauliflower fritters and — maybe my fave — cauliflower buffalo “chicken” sandwiches.

It’s also a heck of a lot prettier than kale. Thought to date back to the 6th Century B.C., cauliflower now comes in colors other than white, such as purple, orange and green.  What also makes it worth your consideration: It’s chock full of vitamins and minerals, making it a nutritional rockstar.

Low in both fat and carbs (one cup has just 27 calories), cauliflower is high in dietary fiber, folate, water and vitamin C. It’s also a good source of folate and choline, a B vitamin known for its role in brain development.

Depending on the season and vendor, cauliflower sells for anywhere from $2.99 a head to as much as $7. But even at the higher price, it’s cheaper than a pound of quality ground beef, and can stretch just as far in a recipe, as demonstrated in the incredibly tasty Cauliflower Parmesan that follows.

Cauliflower Parmesan

PG tested

Even if cauliflower wasn’t 2015’s “it” vegetable, I’d want to make this recipe. It’s comfort food at its best. 

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

3 cups panko or plain unseasoned bread crumbs

Kosher salt, as needed

Black pepper, as needed

1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into 2-inch florets

Olive oil, for frying

5 cups Simple Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)

1 cup finely grated parmesan, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano

1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-size pieces

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place flour, eggs and panko into 3 wide, shallow bowls. Season each generously with salt and pepper. Dip a cauliflower piece first in flour, then eggs, then coat with panko. Repeat with remaining cauliflower.

Fill a large skillet with 1/2-inch oil. Place over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, fry cauliflower in batches, turning halfway through, until golden brown. Transfer fried cauliflower pieces to a paper towel-lined plate.

Spoon a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Sprinkle ⅓ of the parmesan over sauce. Scatter half cauliflower mixture over the parmesan and top with half the mozzarella pieces. Top with half the remaining sauce, sprinkle with another third of the parmesan and repeat layering, ending with a final layer of sauce and parmesan.

Transfer pan to oven and bake until cheese is golden and casserole is bubbling, about 40 minutes. Let cool a few minutes before serving.

Serves 6.

— Melissa Clark, New York Times

Simple Tomato Sauce

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes (optional)

2 28-ounce cans whole or diced plum tomatoes

2 sprigs basil or 1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

In a large, straight-sided skillet over medium heat, warm the oil. Add garlic and cook until just lightly golden. Add chile flakes if desired and cook 30 seconds.

Stir in tomatoes and juices, basil or bay leaf and salt and pepper.

Bring sauce to a simmer and cook until sauce is thick and tomatoes have mostly fallen apart, about 30 to 40 minutes. Adjust heat as needed to keep at a steady simmer. If using whole plum tomatoes, mash them up with the back of a wooden spoon or a potato masher to help them break down. Remove sauce from heat and discard basil or bay leaf.

Kate Middleton’s Pasta Alfredo

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Don’t eat meat or dairy? This  pasta dish was surprisingly yummy.  And absent the heavy cream and butter used in a traditional alfredo sauce, it won’t weigh you down. The original recipe called for a vegan “parmesan” topping, but I used the real thing.

12 ounces fresh cauliflower florets (not frozen)

5 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole

1 onion, sliced

1/4 cup olive oil

1½ teaspoons sea salt, divided

1 pound brown rice penne or fusilli

2 cups almond milk

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Freshly ground black pepper

Chopped fresh Italian parsley

Parmesan cheese for garnish

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Spread cauliflower, garlic and onion on a large rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with oil. Season with 1 teaspoon of the salt, then roast for about 30 minutes, or until veggies are fork tender, turning frequently with a spatula. Add more oil as needed.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package direction. Drain and return to pot.

Transfer roasted vegetables to blender and add almond milk, lemon juice and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Blend until very smooth. Adjust seasoning to taste, remove from blender and toss with hot pasta. Season with pepper and top with parsley and parmesan. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6.

— Adapted from “Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen” by Chloe Coscarelli (Atria, 2014, $19.99)

Cauliflower and Turnip Soup

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So easy, and so delicious. And surprisingly silky for a soup that doesn’t include milk or cream.

8 tablespoons butter

1 medium onion, roughly chopped

1 shallot, roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic, halved

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

1 medium head cauliflower, washed, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces

2 to 3 medium purple-topped turnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1 bay leaf

6 to 8 cups chicken stock (homemade or boxed), divided

Freshly ground black pepper

Whole nutmeg for grating

In large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat, melt butter until foamy. Add onion, shallot and garlic; season with salt. Cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add cauliflower, turnips, thyme, bay leaf and 6 cups chicken stock, and stir to combine.

Bring to a simmer and cook until cauliflower and turnips are tender, about 20 minutes. Taste for seasonings and adjust if necessary. Remove bay leaf and using an immersion blender, blend to a smooth consistency. (You also can work in small batches with a countertop blender.) If the soup is too thick, add some of the remaining stock. Taste again for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Finish with black pepper and a pinch of grated nutmeg when serving.

Serves 12.

— “Root to Leaf: A Southern Chef Cooks Through the Seasons” by Steven Satterfield (Harper Collins; March 3, 2015; $45)

Roasted Beer and Lime Cauliflower Tacos with Cilantro Coleslaw

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Holy heck were these good!  I simmered the cauliflower in Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, but any beer would work. The slaw would be great as a side on its own, or as a topping for any sandwich. No leftovers on this one.

1/2 head of green cabbage (about 1/2 pound)

1 small carrot

2 tablespoons lime juice

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 teaspoon olive oil

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup chopped cilantro

For the tacos:

1 head cauliflower (about 1 pound)

3/4 cup beer

1/4 cup vegetable broth

1 tablespoon lime juice

1½ teaspoons tamari or soy sauce

1½ tablespoons chipotle hot sauce

1 to 2 garlic cloves, sliced

1½ teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 yellow onion, chopped

6 corn tortillas

1 avocado, sliced

Tomato salsa, for serving

Make the slaw: Cut the cabbage into the thinnest strips you can and make sure those pieces are no longer than 2 inches. This is a great time to get good with your knife if you are looking for a silver … lining in all that chopping. Chop the carrot into thin matchsticks of the same length. Got that … down now, right? In a small bowl, mix together the lime juice, vinegar, oil, and salt. Add the dressing right before you are going to eat and toss that … well. Fold in the cilantro just before serving.

Make the tacos: Crank your oven to 400 degrees. Chop the cauliflower into small florets no bigger than a quarter. In a saucepan over medium heat, warm the beer, broth, lime juice, tamari, hot sauce, and garlic. Add the cauliflower and simmer for about 90 seconds. Drain.

In a large bowl. toss the spices, salt, and olive oil together. Add the cauliflower and onion and stir ’til those … are coated. Dump it on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until browned, stirring halfway, about 20 minutes.

To assemble the tacos, warm the tortillas in the oven or microwave for a hot minute and then pile them high with the cauliflower filling, slices of avocado, some of the slaw and top with plenty of salsa.

— edited from the funnily profane “Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook” (Rodale, 2014, $24.99) 

Cauliflower Crust Pizza

Cauliflower Crust Pizza/Gretchen McKay

PG tested

This gluten-free pizza is easy as pie, and just as tasty (though my crust didn’t get as crisp as I would have liked in the middle, even when baked on a pizza stone). My son and his girlfriend had to guess at the ingredients — a clever way to sneak in some nutritional goodies without them knowing it. 

2½ cups cauliflower, grated (about 1/2 a large head)

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1¼ cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided

2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Nonstick spray

1/4 cup tomato sauce

1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half

2 cloves garlic, sliced

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Fresh basil leaves, optional

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, and preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Grate the cauliflower using a box grater until you have 2 cups of cauliflower crumbles. Place in a large bowl and microwave for 7 to 8 minutes or until soft. Remove from the microwave and let cool.

Mix in the egg, 1 cup mozzarella, parmesan cheese and salt and pepper. Once combined, pat into a 10-inch round on the prepared pizza pan. Spray lightly with nonstick spray and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden.

Top the pizza with the sauce, 1/4 cup mozzarella, grape tomatoes, garlic and red pepper flakes. Bake in the oven until melted and bubbly, another 10 minutes. Top with basil before serving.

Makes 1 pizza.