Cauliflower cuts calories in faux pasta Alfredo

Every year, food-trend forecasts renew interest in preparing and eating some overlooked, even obscure, vegetables. Move over kale; watercress is the new super-green for 2015.

I don’t need a top-10 list to justify eating more veggies, not when a local farm makes biweekly deliveries of fresh produce to my house. It also comes as no surprise that some of the year’s “hot” veggies (yes, even watercress) have composed my Runnymede Farm CSA share, explained in a previous post. Celery root, parsnips, beets and other “ugly” root vegetables included in the box have been recast as “cheffy” ingredients for lack of appeal to the average consumer, according to a recent story by Tribune News Service.

Also getting a lot of play on restaurant menus is cauliflower, specifically the less familiar purple and white varieties. I’ve blogged for years about my love for “cheddar” cauliflower and incorporating the roasted florets into salads and pasta dishes.

But the variety I received from Runnymede was a more mainstream, white cauliflower, not as visually inspiring, although plenty tasty. I blanched half the head and dressed it with a cheese sauce, but the other half has been cooling its heels for a couple of weeks in the fridge while I busied myself with more perishable veggies.

Of course, now the previously pristine canvas has a few brown spots, and the florets will lose some of their shapeliness to trimming. Simmering and then blending into a cream soup would be a fine compromise, as would mashing into boiled potatoes or celery root.

Less predictable is this faux Alfredo pasta sauce. Turns out cauliflower is still being touted in new cookbooks as a dairy substitute that cuts fat and calories. This one is from “Women’s Day Easy Everyday Lighter Dinners” (Hearst Books, $16.95).

I’m usually not a fan of such food-swapping strategies, finding them disingenuous and, ultimately, unsatisfying. Yet I am starting to welcome recipes that put a more kid-friendly face on some vegetables.  I can see my 21-month-old digging into this pasta whereas cauliflower would get the cold shoulder — with or without cheese sauce.

Fettuccine “Alfredo”

1/2 head cauliflower (about 1 pound), chopped

12 ounces fettuccine

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon pepper, plus more to taste

2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 cup 1-percent milk

1/2 cup grated Romano cheese

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

Place the cauliflower with 2 1/2 cups water in a pot and simmer until cauliflower falls apart when squeezed, for 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer cauliflower and any remaining water in pot to a blender and puree until smooth, adding extra water if necessary.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions, omitting salt. Reserve 1 cup pasta-cooking liquid, drain pasta and return it to pot.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onion, salt and pepper; cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until very tender, for 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Sprinkle with the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Stir in the milk and simmer until slightly thickened, for about 3 minutes. Stir in the cheese.

Add milk mixture and the cayenne to blender; puree until smooth. Toss cauliflower mixture with pasta, adding some reserved cooking liquid if mixture seems dry. Top with pepper and parsley before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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