Thursday, February 14, 2013

Cauliflower Caviar

Okay... so this little topping is not really caviar...

Perhaps I should have called this Cauliflower Cheese... or Cheese Au Revoir, as may be more apropos.

Goodbyes are difficult... even with cheese.

Venturing on a dairy-free journey when you'd be happy living life as a Potato-Cheese-Bread girl is no easy undertaking. The challenge has become finding ways to mimic what cheese brings to the dance. A cheesy pasta is not easy without cheese. A tomato-y pasta tastes a bit bland without that pop of parmesan. And a creamy pasta base is a bit more challenging without dairy.

So, enter cauliflower. Oh... and a tofu-based cream cheese-like spread that perfectly melds into a basic tomato sauce to create that creamy consistency and... well.. mimic cheese.

When roasted, cauliflower blooms into this amazing, nutty, golden-tinged magnificence, needing nothing more than a gentle drizzle of olive oil and a good little sprinkle of salt and pepper to get it there. It's so good it's easy to snack it to a finish, straight out of the oven, right off the baking sheet.

Knowing that cauliflower will readily welcome more robust seasoning, I figured it would be the perfect little sprinkle to a plating of pasta. With a healthy pop of paprika, garlic and cayenne pepper, this cauliflower produces a great little punch of flavor that stands in beautifully for the absence of parmesan... or any other sharp, cheesy sprinkle you might think you'd miss. The trick is getting the seasoning just sharp enough to take it past the line that would make it a great side dish plating, but not so far that it doesn't play well with this mild pasta.

This pasta is really all about the cauliflower caviar that tops it. The bed of pasta is a creamy, mild, perfect little stick-to-your-bones plating that shines with the added topping of spicy, roasted cauliflower. Together they dance beautifully in step like a well-choreographed waltz... dipping and bending in flavor... mild to spicy... spicy to mild. Alone they might each be more like wall flowers... the pasta a bit too shy... the cauliflower a bit too out there... each, perhaps, relegated to the fringe of the dance floor. Yet, together they sway nicely... making for a happy hello.

And... for added crunch... you can top it all off with a little sprinkle that I discovered worked quite well ... as it was what I was snacking on while making this meal...

... a little sprinkle of chopped, roasted and lightly salted pistachio nuts. Who would have thought...

Cauliflower Caviar
serves 4
Depending on how much cauliflower you'd like to top your pasta with, you may want to double this recipe. It makes approximately 1 cup... I think 2 might be better for 4 servings.

Cauliflower Caviar

2 cups cauliflower, quartered, cored and diced to 1/2" pieces, or less (approximately 1/2 head cauliflower)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon ground (cayenne) red pepper


12 oz. penne pasta, cooked al dente according to package directions (I used Bionaturaé Organic Gluten- Free Rice, Potato, Soy Pasta)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced roasted red bell pepper (jarred)
1 14.5 ounce can diced, unsalted fired roasted tomatoes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup vegetable stock (or "no chicken" stock)
2 tablespoons milk-free "cream cheese" spread (like Tofutti)

1/2 cup chopped, roasted, lightly salted pistachios, optional

Heat oven to 425 degrees F.  Place cauliflower on a large baking sheet. Add olive oil, salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and red pepper to cauliflower. Toss gently with clean hands to mix well. Spread out in one layer. Roast for approximately 15 minutes, checking intermittently, until golden and slightly singed.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add onions and cook  until just translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add roasted bell pepper, tomatoes, salt, pepper and stock. Simmer for approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to blender. Add tofutti and blend (careful to allow steam to release) until reduced to a sauce-like consistency. Return to skillet to heat on low. Add additional seasoning, to taste. (Add tomato paste if you want a bolder tomato flavor.) Add cooked pasta to tomato sauce and heat through.

Plate pasta and top with a 1/4 cup (or more) of roasted cauliflower caviar. Sprinkle with a teaspoon or two of chopped pistachios, if desired.

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