A Simpler, To-the-Point Cauliflower Crust

March  2, 2018

Cauliflower has never felt so special. Years ago, this pale brassica was neglected, just broccoli’s timid, boring cousin. No one picked it in gym class. But now—cauliflower, is that you?—it’s a confident, sexy, award-winning actor. Every recipe, no matter the genre, wants cauliflower as its star. Why, oh why did I ignore you all those years? you sigh, as paparazzi chase after the vegetable, its crazed fans begging for its autograph. Cauliflower’s a real chameleon, and its recent roles are many:

The characters that have seriously captured stomachs hearts, however, are carbohydrate-related. Time unpacks this pattern as such:

Driven by carbo-adverse consumers’ desire for a healthy alternative to white rice and gluten-filled grains, demand for cauliflower has grown steadily over the past few years. U.S. farmers sold $390 million worth of cauliflower in 2016, a steep climb from 2012, when $239 million in cauliflower was sold.

Think cauliflower “rice” or cauliflower-“crust” pizzas. Both start the same way: Break down cauliflower into florets, then break down those florets in a food processor until a rice-like meal forms. Refined grains, make way for minced vegetables.

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I love grains and vegetables and certainly would not consider myself carbo-adverse. Cookies, back me up here. (She’s right! they say.) But I am all about creative recipe riffs, which just happen to be healthier. I mean, who isn’t? Say, cauliflower fried rice with bacon and eggs. Sign me up:

Something about cauliflower crusts has always given me pause, though. Not because the idea of a crispy, oversized cauliflower pancake, cloaked in tomato sauce, covered in cheese, didn’t excite me. But because the execution didn’t add up. Peruse most cauliflower-crust recipes at your fingertips—turns out, there are a lot—and you’ll find a theme: eggs and cheese, like a lot of cheese.

Here’s why: Do away with wheat and you also do away with gluten, which creates elasticity in doughs. So to keep everything together, sans gluten, we need a binder. Most recipes turn to good ol’ super-stretchy cheese, like mozzarella. It binds well. Plus, there’s already cheese on top, so why not add some more? By now, we’re eating a cheesy crust, covered in more cheese—a dish so rich, I can’t help but wonder: Why aren’t we eating, you know, normal pizza?

Then I stumbled upon a more modest, minimalist cauliflower crust in The Food Therapist by Shira Lenchewski. Let’s compare it with another, popular cauliflower-crust pizza by Ree Drummond: 1 head cauliflower. 1 cup mozzarella. 1/4 cup grated parmesan. 1 egg. Lenchewski's version uses the same head of cauliflower, no cheese, and 2 eggs. By doubling the egg, you make up for the loss of the cheese. Does it work, though?

Pass the pepper flakes. Photo by Rocky Luten

You tell me. Okay, fine, I’ll tell you—yes, yes it does. The crust was cohesive and crispy, simple and humble, a perfect blank canvas for lots of tomato sauce and mozzarella. Maybe some mushrooms or black olives or garlic make their way on there, too. Or maybe some roasted cauliflower florets. Wouldn’t that be crazy?

Have you tried cauliflower-crust pizza before? Tell us about the recipe in the comments!

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

1 Comment

M March 2, 2018
Love this, and not just because ppl have never understood my love of cauliflower. (Nothing beats raw cauli and dip.) Fun read, and good links.

Can't wait to compare it to my other health-conscious pizza varieties. Maybe the pita era is over?