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Food & Drink

Cauliflower goes undercover — and is terrific in any form

| Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, 9:00 p.m.

Truth be told, I was prepared to hate most efforts to transform cauliflower into something it isn't. What's wrong with straight-up seasoned and roasted cauliflower? Why do we need to turn it into steaks and cutlets, mash and pizza crusts?

Then I started sampling some of the better versions of these dishes, and I became a reluctant convert. Do they replicate the taste or texture of the real deal? Not at all. But that's OK, because whatever you call these dishes, many of them taste great in their own right. I'd gladly eat them whether or not you pretend they are something else.

Which is what inspired me to see whether cauliflower could be transformed into a risotto-like dish.

Transforming finely chopped cauliflower is so popular, grocers now sell bagged minced cauliflower labeled as ready to use in your favorite pizza crust and mashed potato-like recipes.

The result of my risotto attempt was delicious. Was it as rich and starchy as a true risotto made with Arborio rice? Of course not. But the cauliflower granules resemble al dente rice in form and texture. It also helped that I kept many of the other classic ingredients the same — white wine, chicken broth and parmesan cheese.

If risotto isn't your thing, there's still room for exploring cauliflower. To help you along, I've included recipes for cauliflower pizza crust and a pickled cauliflower salad.

J.M. Hirsch is the food editor for the Associated Press.

Cauliflower Crust Pizza

Recipe by Alison Ladman of the Associated Press.

Start to finish: 1 hour

Vegetable oil cooking spray

1 medium head cauliflower, cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces

2 eggs

1 teaspoon pizza seasoning or Italian herb mixture

1 ounce parmesan cheese, finely grated

14 teaspoon kosher salt

14 teaspoon ground black pepper

12 cup marinara or pizza sauce

8 ounces fresh mozzarella slices

4 ounces thinly sliced cooked chicken sausage

12 medium zucchini, thinly sliced

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with foil, then coat the foil with cooking spray.

In a food processor, pulse half of the cauliflower pieces into small pieces, roughly the size of grains of rice. Transfer to a microwave-safe bowl, then repeat with the remaining cauliflower pieces. Microwave on high for about 5 minutes, or until the cauliflower is fully cooked and very tender. Dump out into a clean kitchen towel and let cool for a few minutes.

Gather up the ends of the towel around the cauliflower and twist so that you have a ball of cauliflower in the middle. Continue twisting to squeeze any excess water out of the cauliflower.

In a medium bowl, combine the squeezed cauliflower with the eggs, pizza seasoning, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly, then divide the mixture between the prepared baking sheets. Spread into a circle, about 9 inches wide. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Top each crust with the sauce, mozzarella slices, sausage and zucchini. Return to the oven and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the zucchini and sausage just begin to brown.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition per serving: 330 calories (180 from fat), 20 grams fat (11 grams saturated), 180 milligrams cholesterol, 23 grams protein, 13 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams dietary fiber, 640 milligrams sodium

Parmesan-Cashew Cauliflower Risotto

Start to finish: 40 minutes

1 large cauliflower, stem and leaves trimmed

3 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons butter

1 medium yellow onion, diced

14 cup white wine

1  12 cups low-sodium chicken stock

12 cup heavy cream

34 cup grated parmesan cheese

12 cup chopped cashews

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Carefully cut the cauliflower into 1-inch chunks, including the core. Working in batches, place the cauliflower chunks and garlic in the processor and pulse until reduced to granules the size of grains of rice. Set aside.

In a very large saute pan over medium-high, melt the butter. Add the onion and cauliflower, stir, then spread in an even layer over the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat to medium, then cook without stirring for 5 minutes. Stir, then spread again over the pan and cook for another 5 minutes.

Return the heat to medium-high, then add the wine and stir to deglaze the pan. Continue cooking, stirring, until the wine is nearly gone. Add the stock and cream, then cook for 15 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced. Stir in the cheese, cashews and lemon juice. When the cheese is melted, season with salt and pepper.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition per serving: 380 calories (260 from fat); 29 grams fat (14 grams saturated), 70 milligrams cholesterol, 12 grams protein, 20 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams dietary fiber, 360 milligrams sodium

Cauliflower Walnut ‘Crumbs'

Recipe by the AP's Alison Ladman.

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with kitchen parchment. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse 2 cups of cauliflower chunks, 3 cloves minced garlic, 12 cup toasted walnuts, the zest of 1 lemon, 12 teaspoon salt, 12 teaspoon ground black pepper and 2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary.

Process until the mixture is finely chopped and resembles coarse bread crumbs. Stir in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Spread over the prepared baking sheet and roast for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until everything is evenly roasted and lightly browned. Serve over a baked sweet potato, roasted eggplant or as a topping for a seared pork chop.

Shaved Pickled Cauliflower Salad

Recipe by the AP's Alison Ladman.

Cut half a head of cauliflower in half, from top to bottom, so that you have 2 quarters. Using a mandoline, slice each quarter into thin slices, discarding any pieces that fall away.

In a medium saucepan, combine 34 cup red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 14 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Bring to a simmer, then add the cauliflower slices. Cover and remove from the heat. Let sit for 15 minutes.

Drain the cauliflower and cool to room temperature. Combine with 14 cup toasted slivered almonds, 14 cup golden raisins and 2 ounces crumbled goat cheese. Serve with greens, roasted chicken, or over warm barley with a drizzle of olive oil.

Roasted Cauliflower Hummus

Recipe by AP's Alison Ladman.

Cut a medium head of cauliflower into 1- to 2-inch florets. Toss lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, black pepper and cumin. Spread on a baking sheet and roast at 425 degrees for 25 minutes, or until browned and tender.

Transfer to a food processor, along with 3 tablespoons roasted tahini and 2 cloves minced garlic. Puree until smooth, scraping down the bowl as needed. Adjust the seasoning with additional salt, pepper and cumin. Stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Drizzle with olive oil and serve with toasted pita chips or veggie sticks.

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