The cauliflower craze is pretty fun and innovative. I’ve seen food fetishes like this plenty of times over my years as a registered dietitian. This one is all a part of the low carb and/or gluten-free movement (meaning starchy carbs=extra calories and/or wheat flour=gut intolerance) that drives creative consumers to discover ways to enjoy the texture and even flavors of their favorite high carb and/or gluten-containing foods (e.g. pasta, potatoes) by replacing them with a lower carb and/or gluten-free food, most often vegetables) disguised to look like the high carb and/or gluten-containing food. Did you follow that reasoning? Spaghetti squash (like I used in my Spaghetti Squash Lasagna) or zucchini noodles (spiralized zucchini like I used in my Simple Chicken Zucchini Alfredo) are examples of replacing noodles/pasta with lower carb, gluten-free choices (and healthier options I might add). But back to cauliflower . . .
Cauliflower is a member of the cruciferous vegetable family (broccoli, cabbage, radishes and kale) which fight cancer, inflammation and improve heart health. One serving of cauliflower contains 77 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C. It’s also a good source of vitamin K, protein, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, fiber, vitamin B6, folate, pantothenic acid, potassium, and manganese. It’s a nutritional powerhouse!
Getting my daughter to eat cauliflower is a whole other story. She doesn’t touch vegetables (or fruit for that matter) except for corn, potatoes, cooked carrots and of course pizza and spaghetti sauces. And she’s 18 years old!! This has been an ongoing dilemma since she was very little. It is the “joke” of the family at this point and to her credit she’ll try a few new things now and then (all while sticking up her nose and tensing up her body because she “knows” she’s not going to like it.) Well I fooled her! I admit it. I deceptively sneaked this cauliflower onto her plate without her knowing what she was actually eating. You can tell from the photos that the cauliflower is somewhat indescribable. It looks like rice which is what I told her it was at first. (I’m telling a half-truth, I know, but a mom has to do what she has to do.)
After she took a bite she asked again what she was eating and I told her the whole truth. She didn’t freak out as much as I thought she would and I hope learned a valuable lesson to not discount a food based only on the description of ingredients. When combined or cooked in a particular way, certain foods taste very different from their original form. Cauliflower is absolutely one of them. Cooked, roasted, boiled cauliflower tastes less pungent then raw. It can substitute for mashed potatoes, pizza crust (see my Cauliflower-Crusted Hawaiian Pizza recipe) or for pasta or rice. By the way, she loved it and has eaten it many times since I first introduced it to her.
The flavors in this dish are Italian favorites: crushed tomatoes, chicken sausage, Parmesan cheese plus Italian herbs like basil, oregano, marjoram and garlic. The cooked sausage and chicken breast pieces are sauteed with onions, garlic, Italian seasoning and crushed tomatoes. You might consider adding sliced mushrooms and diced red bell pepper for even more flavor. The sauce is combined with cooked and drained cauliflower rice, spread into a casserole dish, then topped with shredded Mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses and baked for 25 minutes. It makes a ton and smells awesome. I serve it with a fresh green salad (Mixed Greens, Grape and Sunflower Seed Salad) and if I’ve earned it (thank you tennis!) some yummy rosemary potato bread. Oh and did I say my picky-no-vegetable-will-cross-my-lips daughter really likes this dish?
- Cauliflower Rice, Chicken and Sausage Italian Bake
- 1 medium head cauliflower
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 pound boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
- 1/2 pound Italian-seasoned chicken or turkey sausage, casings removed
- 1 medium onion, about 1 cup, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp Italian seasoning
- 1 28-ounce can Italian-seasoned crushed tomatoes
- 1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees F and lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking dish with olive oil.
- Cut the cauliflower head in quarters. Slice away the leaves and stem, and with an angled cut cut away the core from each quarter of the cauliflower head. Cut into bite-sized florets. Place half the florets in a container of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Cover and pulse multiple times until cauliflower resembles the size of rice. Repeat with other half. (You will have close to 4 cups of cauliflower rice.)
- Bring chicken broth to a boil over high heat. Add the cauliflower rice. Cover and boil for 2 minutes then reduce heat to medium and cook for 10 to 15 minutes or until cauliflower is soft, not chewy. Remove from heat and drain into a fine-meshed strainer gently pressing on the cauliflower to remove excess liquid. Set aside.
- Place a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and then, when the pan is quite hot, add the chicken and sausage. Use a spoon to break up the sausage and cook for 8 to 12 minutes, or until the meats are cooked through. Add the onion, garlic, and Italian seasoning to the pan with the meats. Sauté for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring frequently. Scrape up any brown bits as you sauté. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes or until sauce has reduced by one-third. Turn off the heat and taste the sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Add the cauliflower to the skillet and stir to combine. Spread the mixture in the prepared baking dish and distribute evenly. Sprinkle Mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses evenly over the top. Place in the middle of the oven and bake for 25 minutes or until heated through and the sauce is bubbling. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.
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