Go ahead. Try to roll that beautiful r off the tip of your tongue. Nobody can hear you.
Nothing says culture and sophistication like Italian food. Nothing says romance like a perfect plate of pasta on a candlelit table. (Remember The Lady and the Tramp? Yeah. Now you know what I'm talking about.)
You know what's not so romantic? The carbs that are inherent in Italian cooking. I mean, come on. Does pasta really need to taste that good with white sauce drizzled all over it? I suppose it has to. For those of us who can't approach the pasta plate because of gluten sensitivity or diet preference, the other Italian staple, rice, doesn't offer a much better option in the carb count category.
There is nothing bad about white rice if you are only concerned about gluten. In fact, all too often for the Celiac, rice becomes our go-to. That's all great, but it doesn't mean that it's good for you. I love rice every once in a while, but I have to be careful of how often I'm indulging. Rice is what I would classify as empty carbs. It's not going to trigger any allergies (for most people) but it's not giving you a whole lot of nutrition. If you're not trying to lose weight, or you're expending a lot of calories during the course of your day (running, high intensity aerobics, taking care of young children) then those carbs are fine. But if you're eating rice every day to replace gluten and you're wondering why you can't shed pounds, you may have found a culprit.
What I'm setting you up for is simply this: I have a new rice alternative for you.
And we'll introduce this via some risotto. Lovely, lovely risotto.
If you're not a fan of cauliflower, you may have to change that. I liked cauliflower a little before I changed my dietary habits, but I never thought about it very critically. It was something that usually got served in chunks with broccoli florets in order to fill up a portion of my plate that I knew needed to be occupied by vegetables. Oh, little did I know.
Cauliflower's not as glamorous as some other veggies, it's true. It doesn't have that satisfying dark green of spinach or that dazzling red of a bell pepper. You can find variations of color in cauliflower if you look. My local Kroger carries purple and orange cauliflower. I haven't been brave enough to try them. Yet.
Cauliflower does have its own claim to health fame, though. It's in the cruciferous vegetable family and packs a pretty good punch of vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K and Omega-3. Those magic letters mean that cauliflower can help your body reduce inflammation and provide you with antioxidants. It also has just under 4 grams of dietary fiber, which is going to help you feel fuller for longer. Cauliflower also has a chemical called glucoraphin which helps your stomach wall and keeps certain nasty bacterium from forming in your stomach. We've already surpassed the benefits of rice, but I'll add that the cup of cauliflower is only going to have about 25 calories versus the 160 calories you're going to be getting from a cup of white rice.
One word of warning- if you suffer from gout or have a family history of it, limit your cauliflower intake. Eating cauliflower several times a week can lead to increased uric production in some individuals.
Have I bought your confidence with science? Let's go.
Cauliflower "Rice" Risotto
Meet your new friend. He's more handsome than you remember, no?
Just imagine him with an Italian accent.
Just imagine him with an Italian accent.
1 head cauliflower
2 cups water (or chicken or vegetable broth)
1/4 - 1/2 cup parmesan cheese3 tablespoons whipping cream or full-fat coconut milk
your choice of seasonings (oregano, thyme, salt, pepper, etc)
The trick to making your cauliflower into little rice-lets is going to be in the preparation before it even reaches a pan. Go ahead and carve up the head, discarding the green leaves and the hard core. Some people really like to include the core (more fiber) but I find that my poor little food processor can't handle it.
Cut into pieces small enough for your food processor. I have a teeny food processor.
My food processor is small enough that I have to do this in little batches. Have a bowl at the ready once you've pulsed the cauliflower. I find that it only takes a few seconds of pulsing in my little food-chopper to achieve a rice-like consistency. I've never had good luck with making cauliflower rice in a blender, although some people claim they have. I can't account for other peoples' lies, or for how sad my own blender is.
A full head of cauliflower will make more than what you see in the bowl, but tonight I was only cooking for two.
Appropriate size achieved!
Now, you have two options: you may cook the rice in the microwave, or steam it over the stove, or you can put the broth into a skillet and simmer it all together. You will have more flavorful risotto if you simmer it in a skillet for a few minutes in broth. For this task, I suggest a cast-iron skillet. Make sure that your broth is almost entirely absorbed before you move on to the next step of adding the cream and cheese.
I have no steamer and decided I didn't want to use broth, so I succumbed to the easiness that is my microwave.
If you choose this path then microwave on high for about four minutes...
Drain the excess water away...
And transfer to a skillet. I add in my 3 tablespoons of cream or coconut milk and the parmesan and heat it all together until the cream is absorbed and the parmesan is melted.
If you are lactose-intolerant or Whole30 Paleo, I believe that this meal is worth getting a cheese substitute for, or just use sheep's cheese feta. Your taste will be sharper and more Mediterranean, but the result is still delicious and pairs very well with a sweet salad or an herbed chicken dish.
Once your cream is mixed in and your cheese is melted, the risotto is ready to be plated.
My spices of choice were salt, pepper, oregano, parsley and sage. I also sprinkled a little more parmesan on the top of the cauliflower. Because I'm a cheese-glut like that. The risotto got paired with a top round steak that my husband rubbed in espresso grounds and cayenne pepper and seared over a salted skillet. It was delicious and completely filling.
I have seen people use this method of pulsing to substitute for rice in any dish- even sushi (I haven't gone there, yet). It's not as cheap as rice, but the benefits you're going to get from using cauliflower instead are great. If you can't wrap yourself around the cauliflower completely, try substituting it in recipes like this where other flavors are present, like this risotto or a spicy rice dish.
Your body will love you for it.
Addio, i miei amici!