How you should use cauliflower, a top food trend for 2014

How you should use cauliflower, a top food trend for 2014
By Niz Proskocil / World-Herald correspondent

Move over, kale. There's a new cool kid on the block.

Some food-industry experts are calling cauliflower one of the top food trends for 2014, predicting that it's “poised to be the new kale.” And many food bloggers, cookbook authors and Pinterest pinners are praising the cruciferous veggie's versatility and deliciousness.

Whether roasted until crispy and caramelized, whipped into a smooth and creamy purée, standing in for flour in pizza crust or turned into faux fried rice, cauliflower's becoming the go-to ingredient for home cooks and restaurant chefs, who are highlighting it in a variety of unexpected ways.

At Kitchen Table in downtown Omaha, cauliflower mingles with mozzarella, chickpea pesto and roasted red pepper jam in one of the restaurant's sandwiches. Chefs at the French Bulldog in Dundee use cauliflower in a medley of roasted vegetables topped with shaved cheese and pine nuts. Sandwiches there sometimes come with a side of crunchy pickled cauliflower.

Peggy Woodward, a food editor at Taste of Home magazine in Milwaukee, thinks cauliflower's increased popularity is partly due to the trendy Paleo diet and other low-processed, low-carb eating plans.

“For people with special diets, cauliflower is and will become more popular as a replacement for a couple of select foods that they just cannot have on a restrictive diet,” Woodward said in an email.

Unlike potatoes and white flour, cauliflower has a low glycemic index, so it doesn't cause a spike in blood sugar levels, said Nancy Bertolino, a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee supermarket at 90th Street and West Center Road. That's one reason why some cooks like to swap mashed potatoes for puréed cauliflower.

When making cauliflower purée, she prefers steaming or roasting it instead of boiling. “Boiling can destroy the nutrients,” Bertolino said.

Packed with several essential nutrients, cauliflower is high in vitamin C and low in calories (about 25-30 calories per cup). It's also a good source of fiber. One cup of cauliflower has 2 grams of fiber, equivalent to a slice of whole wheat bread, Bertolino said.

Roasted cauliflower “steaks” are a favorite. She takes a whole head of cauliflower (leaves discarded), slices it into slabs, places the “steaks” on a sheet pan, coats both sides with olive oil, salt and pepper, then roasts them in a 425-degree oven for 15 minutes per side. Serve them topped with pesto, chimichurri sauce, salsa verde or a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and Parmesan.

Taste of Home editor Jeanne Ambrose often serves cauliflower “popcorn” as an appetizer. Break it into flowerets, drizzle with olive oil, add your favorite herb, spices or garlic, then roast it in the oven. Before serving, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese or a squeeze of lemon.

“Part of the reason people are rediscovering cauliflower is that they're realizing its flavor can be mellowed, or emphasized, depending on how it is prepared,” Ambrose said in an email. “It doesn't have to be boiled and topped with a cheesy sauce, as was often the case in grandma's kitchen.”

Whether he's blending it for a creamy soup, baking it in a casserole, sautéing it with garlic or piling it on a plate of nachos, Gene Cammarota is crazy for cauliflower.

“You can put it in everything. I have no problem putting cauliflower on my nachos,” said Cammarota, a chef-instructor at Iowa Western Community College and host of the weekly “What's Cooking” show on radio station 1180 AM-The Zone 2.

For an easy side dish, he blanches cauliflower florets briefly, then sautés them in a skillet before transferring them to a pie tin. Sprinkle a mixture of bread crumbs, Parmesan and olive oil over it, then pop it under the broiler for a few minutes, until the top is golden brown.

Parents with children who won't go near it can sneak some chopped cauliflower into kid-friendly dishes like mac and cheese, Cammarota said.


Cauliflower Tomato Medley

• 1 medium head cauliflower (about 2 pounds), broken into florets • 6 bacon strips, diced • 1½ cups soft bread crumbs • 3 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges • 2 tablespoons sliced green onion • 1½ teaspoons snipped fresh dill or ½ teaspoon dill weed • ¼ teaspoon salt • Dash pepper • ¾ cup shredded cheddar cheese

Place 1 inch of water and cauliflower in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes or until crisp-tender.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove to paper towels. Drain, reserving 3 tablespoons drippings. Toss bacon and bread crumbs with drippings; set aside.

Drain cauliflower. Arrange the tomatoes in a greased shallow 2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle with onion, dill, salt and pepper. Top with cauliflower and bacon mixture.

Cover and bake at 400° for 10 minutes. Uncover; sprinkle with cheese. Bake 5 minutes longer or until cheese is melted. Yield: 6 servings.

Chicago-Style Hot Giardiniera

• 1 small head cauliflower, broken into small florets (about 5 cups) • 2 celery ribs, chopped • 1 medium carrot, chopped • 4 jalapeño peppers, sliced • 4 serrano peppers, sliced • ½ cup salt • 1 cup white vinegar • 3 garlic cloves, minced • 2 teaspoons dried oregano • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes • 1 cup canola oil • 1 jar (10 ounces) small pimiento-stuffed olives, drained

In a large bowl, toss cauliflower, celery, carrot and peppers with salt. Add cold water to cover. Refrigerate, covered, overnight.

Drain vegetables; rinse with cold water and drain again. In a large nonreactive bowl, whisk vinegar, garlic, oregano and pepper flakes. Gradually whisk in oil until blended. Add olives and drained vegetables; toss to coat. Refrigerate, covered, overnight to allow flavors to blend.

Transfer mixture to covered jars. Refrigerate up to 3 weeks. Yield: 8 cups.

Note: Wear disposable gloves when cutting hot peppers; the oils can burn skin. Avoid touching your face.

Smoky Cauliflower

• 1 large head cauliflower, broken into 1-inch florets (about 9 cups) • 2 tablespoons olive oil • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika • ¾ teaspoon salt • 2 garlic cloves, minced • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Place cauliflower in a large bowl. Combine the oil, paprika and salt. Drizzle over cauliflower; toss to coat. Transfer to a 15-by-10-by-1-inch baking pan. Bake, uncovered, at 450° for 10 minutes.

Stir in garlic. Bake 10-15 minutes longer or until cauliflower is tender and lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with parsley. Yield: 8 servings.