A Creamy, Crisp-Topped Alfredo In Which Cauliflower Stars as Itself

May  5, 2016

Am I the only one who’s just a little tired of the “cauliflower-as-stand-in-for-carby-things” trend? Maybe it’s sacrilege to say so, but sometimes a gal just wants rice. Rice that’s chewy, and starchy, and filling. Or pizza crust—the kind that’s stretchy and doughy and crispy on the outside, yet tender on the inside. (In other words, not a large, round, cauliflower-based pizza cracker.)

Believe me, I understand all of the ways in which cauliflower can be a very useful substitute. Personally, I love serving cauliflower steaks or a whole roasted cauliflower for special occasions. And it’s true that the tender, subtle flavor makes it endlessly adaptable. But cauliflower simulacrum recipes have become so commonplace these days that one occasionally craves the very things that this versatile crucifer is supposed to be replacing.

Bubbly, creamy sauce; toasty, crispy breadcrumbs. Photo by James Ransom

Consider this recipe the best of both worlds. As you’ll see, cauliflower creates the base for a creamy, rich, and completely dairy-free alfredo sauce. Those of you who take issue with the sheer number of vegan “creamy” recipes that rely on cashews will be happy to know that this recipe is cashew-free—and nut-free in general. And though I suppose that the sauce could be considered a “lightened-up” spin on conventional, creamy sauces, I hope you’ll fall in love with its flavor first and foremost.

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Cauliflower, in this case, amplifies the joys of a real, delightfully starchy pasta creation rather than standing in for one. This a traditional baked pasta dish, complete with all of the necessary comfort food touches (peas and breadcrumbs included). The cauliflower florets you don’t use in the sauce are folded into the pasta, which means that you’ll get pockets of savory vegetable goodness between the penne. In other words, the cauliflower is both an ingenious recipe hack and a complement to something decidedly more homey. Win, win.

Cauliflower as cauliflower—what's your favorite way to cook it? Tell us in the comments.

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Gena is a registered dietitian, recipe developer, and food blogger. She's the author of three cookbooks, including Power Plates (2017) and Food52 Vegan (2015). She enjoys cooking vegetables, making bread, and challenging herself with vegan baking projects.