by Kate Payne • Photography by Jo Ann Santangelo
If you pay close attention to the world of food and those blogging about it, you’ve probably noticed how dramatically cauliflower has exploded in the grain-free community. Turns out this humble vegetable—the new kale of the special-diet scene—makes an impressive alternative for the nut and other high-protein flours used to bulk up grain-free recipes.
Cauliflower is a champion of agricultural progress—appearing in Europe after broccoli, sometime around the 16th century. The cauliflower florets found on dinner plates and in pickle jars are really a cluster of premature flower-stalk branches. Part of the cabbage family, cauliflower is rich in cell-wall pectins and hemicelluloses, which makes it an ideal candidate for adding bulk to recipes. (This same cellular structure is also why cauliflower can be coaxed into a smooth, creamy puree.) Cooking it allows its cell walls to release some of the water within. The recipe below for cauliflower “flour” calls for pressing this water out of the cells to produce a pile of cauliflower “meal”—similar in consistency to that of masa used for making tortillas.
There are a lot of options for adapting this recipe to meet your needs, but it’s important to choose ingredients that will help accomplish the desired texture and results. The other players in this grain-free pizza crust include cheese, egg and arrowroot starch. Cheese plays a role in creating a casein “fabric” that tightens up when the fat is baked out of it. We also have cheese to thank for the slight crispness of the crust. Egg acts as the binder, with the magic and science of custards behind it. If omitting egg is necessary, try adding 3 tablespoons of warm water to 1 tablespoon of freshly ground flaxseed meal mixed with a pinch of baking powder. Starch absorbs water and sets the structure during baking. I chose arrowroot starch because it produces a less-chewy final texture, but tapioca or even cornstarch will work well, too. In my crust experiments without starch, I found the outcome to be more like a quiche than a crust, but I encourage small-batch experimentation to find a texture that works well for the purposes of the recipe at hand.
From a practical perspective, I prefer to view this as a two-step process, since rarely during the throes of mealtime preparation do I want to do an hour of cauliflower prep, too. The first time I made this, I underestimated how long it would take to get a meal from a head of cauliflower and ended up eating dinner close to 10 p.m. Preparing the cauliflower in advance and freezing it in 1-cup portions is the way to go, and having premade cauliflower flour on hand makes this a quick and easy dinner to throw together whether pizzas, pita wraps or just open-faced flatbread creations are on the menu (or ingredients beckoning from the crisper drawer).