A few weeks ago our friendly neighborhood nutritionist Courtney Ferreira was on talking about healthy choices in eating. One thing she mentioned was cauliflower, which is apparently quite a little nutrition bomb. And Al and Chef Jerry Pellegrino agree that cauliflower may have gotten something of a bum rap and being way too bland.
Cauliflower rice is a concept I was unfamiliar with, but it's apparently catching on like wildfire. So I went out and bought a big head of fresh cauliflower so that I could "rice" it. What it is, is finely chopped cauliflower florets that end up as tiny morsels about the size of a grain of rice. You can do it by hand or even better, use a few pulses on a food processor.
Like rice, the bits of cauliflower are hard and need to be cooked. Gentle sautéing in butter seems to be a good approach. One word of caution: do not overcook the cauliflower rice. Leave it a little firm and don't let it get mushy.
Courtney Ferreira recommended mixing cauliflower rice with true rice to get a healthier, less starchy dish. I used fluffy basmati rice, and it worked fine.
Now you have to realize that cauliflower rice doesn't taste anything like true rice.
It has a green, vegetal flavor which can easily be improved with a little butter, salt and pepper. A 50-50 mix is fine.
Having made more cauliflower rice-rice than we could eat, I had leftovers.
Contemplating the possibilities of adding something to the mixture, I hit upon chopped up shrimp... which led quickly to the idea of spring roles. I had everything I needed: Vietmanese spring roll wrappers, shrimp, carrots, celery,chives, tangerine sections and some soy suace, so I was set. The combination of flavors and textures worked really well in a very healthy dish.
I still had half a cauliflower left over as well as a butternut squash. I peeled and chopped up the squash and the cauliflower and fired up my oven to 350°. Because the cauliflower is more tender, you start with the squash first. As it starts to bake, you add the cauliflower and continue for about 10 more minutes. It all went into a food processor and I could have finished it with a little butter, but I had some left over blue cheese-sour cream veggie dip which was perfect. I gave it a good go with the purée setting and a creamy smooth tangy side dish was born.
Because cauliflower is relatively bland, it easily becomes a blank canvas for more flavorful ingredients. Cheese is a very familiar partner with cauliflower, whether it is sprinkled on like parmesan or drizzled on like melted cheddar, the two go well together.
Quite a few recipes call for bacon, surprise, surprise, and one in particular caught my eye. It's a creamy concoction of roasted cauliflower, hazelnuts and fennel puréed with chicken broth and heavy cream. The flavor of the nuts matches up perfectly with the roasted cauliflower which has a nutty flavor of its own. Here's the recipe.
ROASTED CAULIFLOWER AND HAZELNUT SOUP
- 1/2 cup blanched hazelnuts
- 1 medium head of cauliflower (about 2 pounds), cut into small florets
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
- 4 slices thick-cut bacon (about 4 ounces)
- 1 small fennel bulb, chopped
- 1 small sweet onion, chopped
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 1/3 cup dry white wine or water
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 2 bay leaves
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Toast hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing occasionally, until golden brown, 10–12 minutes. Let cool, then coarsely chop.
- While the nuts are cooling, increase oven to 400°F. Toss cauliflower and 2 Tbsp. oil on another baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Roast, tossing once, until florets are browned all over and tender, 30–35 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cut bacon crosswise into 1/2" pieces. Heat a heavy pot over medium and cook bacon, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp, 10–12 minutes. Transfer to paper towels.
- Cook fennel, onion, and garlic in drippings in pot, stirring occasionally, until onion and fennel are very soft, 8–10 minutes. Add wine and cook until mostly evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add roasted cauliflower, broth, cream, and bay leaves; season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until cauliflower is very tender, 20–25 minutes. Pluck out bay leaves; discard. Let mixture cool slightly.
- Working in batches, purée cauliflower mixture until very smooth. Strain back into pot; season with salt and pepper.
- Just before serving, ladle soup into bowls; top with bacon and nuts and drizzle with oil.