Cauliflower power: Four new ways with the cult vegetable

This parmigiana swaps eggplant or chicken for cauliflower.
This parmigiana swaps eggplant or chicken for cauliflower. Photo: Leanne Kitchen

Miznon's cult whole-roasted cauliflowers, Messer's baby caulis, and even teeny weeny caulini (aka fioretto cauli-blossom) – cauliflower is currently heads above other veg. It's the darling of the low-carb set who slice it into "steaks" or blitz it into "rice" and "cous cous". It's finally being treated with respect rather than prepared as sad, waterlogged florets.

Cauliflower-championing former chef Leanne Kitchen developed 70 recipes for her new book, Cauliflower is King, starring the now-not-so-bland brassica, and says she easily could have kept going.

Cauliflower is King by Leanne Kitchen.
Cauliflower is King by Leanne Kitchen. Photo: Murdoch Books

Love it or hate it, cauliflower cheese made the cut. "When it's done really well it's delicious, but it can go awfully wrong and there's nowhere to hide," warns Kitchen. She says the secret's in the sauce and shares her bechamel tips.

"You've got to cook out the flour for a few minutes with the butter in the pan, before you add the milk. You've really got to get in there with a whisk when you add the milk, so that you don't make the sauce lumpy. Cook it for the requisite 10 minutes or so to further cook out the flour.

"Do the basics right – it shouldn't be too thick but it should be coating consistency."

Kitchen suggests infusing the warm milk with herbs such as rosemary and thyme, and mixing and matching cheeses such as blue, parmesan or smoked cheddar.

When it comes to cauliflower selection, "you want one that's really perky and tight, feels heavy, and the curd is really white and unblemished", says Kitchen. She recommends buying one with the leaves on. As well as protecting the white "curd", the leaves are a good indication of freshness. "If they're wilty you know it's not as fresh as it should be."

How to cook those outer leaves? "Roast them whole or slice finely and sweat them off when you're making a cauliflower-based risotto or pasta dish.

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"Because they have the same resilience as stems, be mindful that you need to cook them a little bit longer than the florets."

A note on whole-roasted cauliflower: Despite her attempts to skip the initial boiling step ("it just burns, it doesn't roast off in the middle"), Kitchen now boils the whole head in stock instead of water, for extra flavour, before roasting. "When I cook vegetables my mantra is: water is the enemy," she says.

ANNABEL SMITH

Cauliflower parmigiana

Here's a spin on the classic layered eggplant dish that's associated with southern Italy and is particularly popular in Naples. Crumbed, fried cauliflower is perfect as the main ingredient, with the panko (don't use any other type of dried breadcrumb) forming a lovely crunchy crust.

1 large cauliflower (about 1.2kg), trimmed

2 large eggs, beaten well

60ml (¼ cup) buttermilk

120g (2 cups) panko breadcrumbs

olive oil spray

large handful of basil leaves, torn

250g (2 cups) grated mozzarella cheese

70g (⅔ cup) grated parmesan cheese

Tomato sauce

2½ tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tbsp tomato paste

2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes

170ml (⅔ cup) chicken stock

250ml (1 cup) tomato passata

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, or to taste

2–3 tsp castor sugar, or to taste

For the tomato sauce, heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the onion has softened. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute, then add the chopped tomatoes, chicken stock, passata, balsamic and 2 teaspoons of the sugar and season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to a simmer then cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes or until reduced and thickened slightly. Add a little more vinegar or sugar, if necessary.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180C and line two baking trays with baking paper. Using a large, sharp knife, cut the cauliflower lengthways through the core into slices about 1.5cm thick, creating as many large slices as possible.

Whisk the eggs and buttermilk in a large bowl until smooth. Place the panko in a large dish. Working with one piece of cauliflower at a time, dip in the egg mixture, turning it to coat and allowing excess to drain off. Dip in the panko, pressing the crumbs onto the cauliflower to coat all over.

Arrange the coated cauliflower on the tray, then spray generously with olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes or until light golden. Turn over, spray with oil and cook for 15 minutes or until cooked through.

Spread the hot tomato sauce in a large baking dish then scatter with the basil. Arrange the cauliflower over the sauce, overlapping it slightly if necessary to cover. Season well with salt and pepper then scatter with the cheese. Bake for 20 minutes or until the cauliflower is heated through and the cheese is bubbling and golden. Serve immediately.

Serves 6

Fried cauliflower tacos recipe from Cauliflower is King by Leanne Kitchen, Murdoch Books, RRP $19.99. Photography by Leanne Kitchen.

Fried (or baked) cauliflower tacos. Photo: Leanne Kitchen

Fried cauliflower tacos

If you don't want to deep-fry, no worries. Spread the cauli on a paper-lined tray, spray with olive oil and bake in a 190C oven for 30 minutes for crisp cauli that's lower in fat and delicious. (Arguably, not quite as delicious, but it's your call.) Note: You'll need a tortilla press to make your own tortillas.

INGREDIENTS

270g masa harina (or 12 store-bought tortillas)

1 small cauliflower (about 800g), trimmed

2 eggs, beaten well

150g (1 cup) plain flour

1½ tsp chilli powder

1½ tsp cumin seeds

2 tsp dried oregano

1½ tsp salt

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

vegetable oil, for deep-frying

Guacamole

2 ripe avocados

2 garlic cloves

2 tbsp lime juice, or to taste

Red cabbage slaw

½ small red cabbage, trimmed, cored and finely shredded

1 carrot, very finely shredded

handful of coriander, chopped

170ml (⅔ cup) whole-egg mayonnaise

METHOD

If making your own tacos, combine the masa harina with 300ml water in a bowl and using a fork, mix to combine until a soft, pliable dough forms. Add a little more masa harina if it is too soft, or more water if too firm.

Divide the dough into 12 even pieces and roll each into a ball. Open your tortilla press and cover the base with baking paper. Place a ball in the centre and cover with another sheet of baking paper. Firmly close the tortilla press then open, turn the taco in the paper 180 degrees and gently press again to make an even thickness. Peel off the top layer of paper, turn the taco over and carefully peel away the other layer of paper.

Place tortillas on a baking paper-lined tray and repeat with the remaining dough.

Heat a frying pan over medium heat and cook the tacos, in batches, for 1 minute on each side or until cooked through. Transfer to a plate and cover with a damp tea towel to keep them soft and pliable.

For the guacamole, combine all the ingredients in a food processor, season well with salt and pepper and process until smooth, adding a little extra lime juice if necessary.

For the red cabbage slaw, mix all the ingredients in a bowl until the vegetables are coated with mayonnaise. Add more mayonnaise to taste and season well.

Preheat the oven to 120C.

For the fried cauliflower, cut the cauliflower into 1cm pieces. Whisk the egg and 1 tablespoon water in a bowl. Mix together the flour, spices, oregano, salt and pepper in another bowl.

Heat about 6cm of oil, or enough to deep-fry, in a large saucepan to 160C or until a cube of bread turns golden in 60 seconds. Working in batches, toss the cauliflower in the egg mixture to coat well, allowing excess to drain off. Toss to coat in the flour mixture, shaking off any excess flour. Deep-fry the cauliflower, in batches, for 7 to 8 minutes or until tender, crisp and golden. Keep warm in the oven on a plate lined with paper towel while you cook the remaining cauliflower.

To serve, fill each taco with some coleslaw, guacamole and fried cauliflower.

Makes 12 tacos

Cauliflower hummus recipe from Cauliflower is King by Leanne Kitchen, Murdoch Books, RRP $19.99. Photography by Leanne Kitchen.

Roasted cauliflower hummus. Photo: Leanne Kitchen

Cauliflower hummus

You can never have enough hummus recipes under your belt and so … cauliflower hummus. Buy some ready-to-go pita bread, olives and Lebanese pickles, throw them on a platter with a few slices of pastirma and bits of Turkish cheese or feta, wedges of tomato, olives and slices of cucumber and, voila: your mezze plate is sorted.

INGREDIENTS

1 small cauliflower (about 800g), trimmed and cut into small florets

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, chopped

400g tin chickpeas, drained

1 tsp ground cumin

4 tbsp tahini

2 tbsp lemon juice, or to taste

2 tbsp pine nuts, toasted

sumac, to sprinkle

pita bread, olives and Lebanese pickles, to serve

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Place the cauliflower in a single layer on a large baking tray and drizzle with 2½ tablespoons of the oil. Roast for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the cauliflower is golden and tender. Cool slightly.

Reserve half the cauliflower and place the other half ina food processor with as much olive oil as you can pour off the tray. Add the garlic and process until smooth,then add the chickpeas, cumin, tahini, lemon juice, remaining olive oil and 3 tablespoons water. Process until the mixture is very smooth. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, adding a little extra lemon juice if necessary.

Arrange in a serving bowl, then scatter with the reserved roast cauliflower and pine nuts. Sprinkle with sumac to taste, then serve with pita bread, olives and pickles.

Serves 4–6

Cauliflower, lime and coconut cheesecake recipe from Cauliflower is King by Leanne Kitchen, Murdoch Books, RRP $19.99. Photography by Leanne Kitchen.

Make your guests guess the secret-ingredient in this cheesecake. Photo: Leanne Kitchen

Cauliflower, lime and coconut cheesecake

Cauliflower brings its earthy sweetness to, yes, cheesecake. Really? You'll never even know it's there! Gild the lily by slathering the top with lashings of whipped cream, some toasted coconut and a sprinkling of finely grated lime zest just before you serve.

200g cauliflower florets

250g (generous 1 cup) cream cheese, chopped

300g (1⅓ cups) firm, fresh ricotta cheese

150g (⅔ cup) castor sugar

4 tbsp lime juice

finely grated zest of 2 limes

3 eggs, beaten well

45g (½ cup) desiccatedcoconut

2 tbsp plain flour

1 tsp coconut essence, or to taste

Cheesecake base

175g plain sweet biscuits, such as shortbread, broken

80ml (⅓ cup) melted coconut oil

50g (½ cup) desiccated coconut

For the cheesecake base, place the biscuits in a food processor and mix to fine crumbs. With the motor running, add the oil and coconut and process until well combined. Press into the base of a 20cm round springform tin.

Preheat the oven to 170C.

Steam the cauliflower over boiling water for 4 minutes or until tender, then cool in a colander. Process until very smooth, then add the cream cheese to the processor and mix until smooth, stopping to scrape the cream cheese down occasionally. Add the ricotta, sugar, lime juice and zest and process until smooth, then add the eggs, coconut, flour and essence and process until smooth.

Pour into the tin and bake for 50 minutes to one hour or until firm in the middle. Turn off the oven, open the door slightly, then leave until the cheesecake is completely cold.

Serves 8

Images and recipes from Cauliflower is King by Leanne Kitchen, published by Murdoch Books, RRP $19.99, photography by Leanne Kitchen.