This post was originally published August 2014. Text and images have been updated.
As someone who hangs in non-diet dietitian circles, I frequently hear the sentiment that zucchini is not pasta, lettuce is not bread, and cauliflower is not rice. To which I cheer loudly! No, zucchini is most certainly not a substitute for yummy, delicious pasta, and lettuce is not, and will never be the same as bread!
When cooked right, cauliflower is one of my favorite vegetables. Riced cauliflower gets nice and tender and soaks up all the delicious flavor of the onion and garlic I cook it in, getting lightly caramelized all over as it cooks. I also love it mashed, mixed with steamed potatoes to create a comforting mash that's perfect topped with something stewy. It’s also delicious pureed with milk and olive oil and nutritional yeast to create this ultra-creamy pasta sauce.
A couple weeks ago Scott got me a Vitamix (supposedly for my birthday but it was using gift cards from work, so guys, I don’t think that counts). With new Vitamix in tow, I feel like I can be a real healthy person now! ;)
This was the recipe I made to break it in. Pureed soups and sauces taste SO much better now that I can get them ultra smooth and creamy in a high speed blender. Looking back at my original pictures of this recipe, it was a little sad how grainy it looked – still tasty, but the texture is much more alfredo-like now. If you don't have a high-speed blender, you absolutely can still make this recipe. Make it in the food processor instead, and you may need to add a little extra liquid. Let it run for awhile to get as creamy as possible, but it still may not look as smooth.
I say this cauliflower sauce is alfredo-like, but not exactly, because ya know, it’s cauliflower. But to me, that difference is a good thing - although I love cream sauces, I don’t love alfredo. It reminds me of bad meals at Olive Garden. This dish has a sweet starchiness to the sauce, but plenty of creamy flavor. I added some butter and parmesan cheese to my leftovers and it was delicious too!
Feel free to use any vegetables you like in this dish. I used summer squash and baby heirloom tomatoes, but for a more seasonal spring dish, use asparagus and spinach. For a fall/winter-spin, use hearty greens like kale. You could also use this sauce as a base in other recipes that call for cream sauce. Here's some ideas:
- Use it as a cream sauce for eggplant lasagna
- Add Indian spices and use as a base for curries
- Add bacon to make a cream spaghetti carbonara-like sauce
- Use it as a creamy base for a white pizza
- Bake it with brown rice and broccoli topped with cheese for a creamy casserole
- A vegan moussaka with lentils and eggplant
Pasta Primavera with Creamy Cauliflower Sauce
Sauce adapted from Oh She Glows.
- 12 ounces whole grain penne or rotini
- 1 medium head of cauliflower, in florets
- 3 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 5 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/2 large onion, chopped
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 medium yellow squash, halved lengthwise and sliced
- 1 pint small cherry or heirloom tomatoes, halved
- Slivered basil, optional, for garnish
- Parmesan cheese, optional, for garnish
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package instructions until al dente. Drain and set aside.
- Place cauliflower in a large bowl with a couple tablespoons of water. Microwave for 10-12 minutes until tender, or steam it in a steamer basket. Test with a fork to make sure it's very tender.
- While cauliflower is steaming, Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Place cauliflower, sauteed vegetables, almond milk, and lemon juice in a food processor or high speed blender and blend until smooth, about 2-3 minutes for a high speed blender, a little longer for a food processor. Stop to scrape down the sides as needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Heat an additional tablespoon of olive oil in the same large skillet on medium-high heat. Add squash and saute until lightly browned and tender, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and saute and additional 2 minutes until softened. Add cauliflower sauce and warm through, 2-3 minutes, then add pasta and stir to coat. Garnish with basil and parmesan cheese, if desired.
More cauliflower recipes: