The secrets to cauliflower-crust pizza that you'll want to devour


When it comes to trendy foods, I'm no early adopter. It took me years to get past my quibbles with quinoa, to dive into the mysteries of chia pudding and, most recently, to tackle a cauliflower pizza crust. 

As with the first two items on that list, the cauliflower pizza I tried a couple of years ago was so disappointing (soggy), I dismissed the entire concept as not worth the time. But then I got on the cauliflower rice bandwagon, making it virtually every week and playing around with various spices and add-ins. I had come around to the fact that cauliflower is super versatile, so I was a little more open-minded when my fiance, trying to cut down on carbs, mail-ordered frozen crusts from a California company (Cali'flour Foods) and asked me to try them out.

When I made them as instructed, they tasted good. But I didn't like the soft texture, which couldn't stand up to any toppings. When I cooked the crusts a lot longer, they became crisper, holding up better under caramelized onions, roasted squash and blue cheese that I added in a second round of baking. And when I accidentally cooked one until it was close to burnt, we broke it into great crackers and scooped up hummus with them.

So my first lesson was to push the baking time. Next, when I tried making the crusts from scratch, pulsing cauliflower florets in the food processor and then steaming them for a few minutes until tender, I learned another crucial step: squeezing the cauliflower in a kitchen towel to get rid of as much liquid as possible. That helps avoid sogginess.

That technique was from a recipe in "Eat More Greens" by Zita Steyn (Quadrille, 2017), and it included one final tip that made all the difference in the world. While I baked the crusts twice as long as she suggested, I followed her instructions to avoid baking the toppings on the crust at all. Instead, you cook a mixture of red onion, garlic, tomatoes, Swiss chard and olives on the stove top and wait to spoon it on the crusts until after they've come out of the oven and rested for a few minutes, to firm up. A little crumbled soft cheese and a drizzle of olive oil finishes the job.

Between her approach and mine, we have a winner.

- - -

Cauliflower Pizzas With Chard and Olives

4 to 6 servings (makes 2 small pizzas)

You'll need two heavy baking trays or baking sheets and a clean dish towel. (If you have a pizza stone, you can use that instead of the baking sheets, but you'll need to bake the crusts one at a time.)

MAKE AHEAD: The cauliflower "flour" can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. The baked pizza crusts can be refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 3 months. Reheat in a 300-degree oven to crisp them up again before topping.

Adapted from "Eat More Greens: The Most Inventive Recipes to Help You Eat More Greens," by Zita Steyn (Quadrille, 2017).

Ingredients

For the crusts

1 large head cauliflower (2 1/2 to 3 pounds) (may substitute 2 pounds cauliflower florets or store-bought cauliflower rice)

1/4 cup water

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons dried Italian herb blend

1/2 cup finely ground almonds or almond meal

1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino Romano cheese

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the topping

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 large red onion, thinly sliced

1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, plus more as needed

1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

8 ounces Swiss chard, stemmed and chopped into bite-size pieces

1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives

2 ounces feta or crumbly goat cheese

Steps

For the crusts: Preheat two heavy, flat, metal trays or baking sheets on the middle rack of the oven at 425 degrees.

Cut out the cauliflower stem and core, and break the head into florets. Working in batches as needed, add the florets (or the store-bought cauliflower rice, if using) to the bowl of a large-capacity food processor and pulse until it resembles large grains of couscous. Pour the water into a large saucepan or deep skillet over medium heat. Add the cauliflower. Once the water starts to steam, cover and cook the cauliflower until tender, 10 to 12 minutes.

Cool the cauliflower by spreading it on a large, rimmed baking sheet. (Place in the refrigerator or freezer to speed the process, if desired.)

Spoon the cooled cauliflower into a clean dish towel in a small bowl, then gather up the towel's ends and twist, squeezing out as much liquid as possible. (This can seem laborious, but it is essential.) You should have 2 packed cups or 14 ounces of cauliflower "flour." Reserve any extra for another use.

Thoroughly combine the cauliflower "flour," eggs, dried Italian herb blend, ground almonds or almond meal, Parmigiano or pecorino cheese, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl.

Grease the centers of two large pieces of parchment paper with cooking oil spray. (Alternatively, you can lightly brush it with oil.) 

Divide the cauliflower mixture in half. Use your hands to form each portion of the cauliflower mixture into a ball, then press each ball onto the oiled parchment into a round that's about 1/4-inch thick (7 to 8 inches across). Slide the parchments onto the baking sheets in the oven; bake until lightly golden around the edges, 12 to 14 minutes. Remove the parchments from the oven, invert their contents onto the counter and peel off the parchments. Return the crusts to the baking sheets; bake until dark brown around the edges, 12 to 14 minutes. Flip over the cauliflower crusts once more, and bake until deeply browned all over and very dark and crisp around the edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove and let cool for a few minutes; they will firm up further.

While the crusts are baking, make the topping: Pour the 2 tablespoons of oil into a skillet over medium heat and, once the oil shimmers, add the red onion and salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion softens, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring, until they start to soften, 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until very fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the chard and cook just until it wilts, 1 minute. Stir in the olives, remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.

When the crusts have baked and rested, top them generously with the chard mixture. Sprinkle on the feta or goat cheese, drizzle with oil, if desired, cut into wedges and serve hot.

Nutrition | Per serving: 230 calories, 12 g protein, 13 g carbohydrates, 16 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 80 mg cholesterol, 610 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar


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