When I decided to expand my vegetable horizons as part of a New Year’s resolution to make healthier choices, cauliflower quickly became one of my favorites. Junior year of college, I was no longer dependent on the college cafe and needed to shop for myself. A friend told me about a new “hip grocery store” called Trader Joe’s, which opened near my college, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute near Albany, New York. It was all the rage because it was cute but “it has like cheap organic vegetables and good cheap wine,” my friend said. It was there that I began to pick up foods I had never really tried and just figured it out. 

Funnily enough, my mother was thousands of miles away also experimenting on her own. Our phone calls always ended with the question, “What are you making for dinner tonight?” We’d share whatever meal we were making, and offer recommendations for its preparation.

When cauliflower came up, roasting was always the way to go. It was simple, and you could essentially forget about it and still produce an amazing product. Eventually, we started talking about mashed cauliflower. Every time I made it I was just underwhelmed; I wanted more substance and “heartiness.” The answer was polenta. Polenta is a creamy, hearty and flavorful dish that is made with yellow or white corn. People in the South just call this grits. 

You can call this recipe an “elevated cauliflower mash,” or as I say, cauliflower polenta. When making this dish, I use three different types of fats — shredded cheese, milk and a little butter. If you use Parmesan regularly, I would highly recommend saving your Parmesan rinds and using them in this recipe. Using the Parmesan rind as a sort of cheesy tea bag when cooking this dish enhances the creamy texture and provides additional depths of Parmesan flavor (especially if it’s aged). 

Get ready to warm your belly with a bowl of this creamy cauliflower. If you’d like to use this as a side dish, I recommend pairing it with chicken or meatballs and red sauce. If you have leftovers, store them in the fridge, reheat with a little bit of liquid and enjoy at your leisure. 

Cauliflower Polenta

Prep time: 15 minutes 

Cook time: 30 minutes

Servings: 3-6 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups cauliflower, riced. (If you have a whole cauliflower, use a cheese grater or food processor to rice; the cauliflower should be coarse. If your whole cauliflower produces more than 2 cups, feel free to start with the following liquid measurements and add more if needed).
  • 2 tablespoons butter (or any neutral oil)
  • ½ cup chicken broth or water
  • 1 Parmesan rind (optional)
  •  ½ cup heavy cream (or coconut cream)
  • ½ cup Parmesan; shredded
  • 4 teaspoons garlic powder 
  • 4 teaspoons onion powder 
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasonings 
  • Salt and pepper to taste

STEPS:

  1. In a small saucepan, add riced cauliflower, butter and chicken broth. If you have a Parmesan rind, add it here as well. Season with salt and pepper.
  1. Cover with lid and let cook over medium to medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes or until cauliflower is tender but not mushy. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking to the bottom.
  2. Add cream, Parmesan, garlic powder, onion powder and Italian seasonings. Stir and cook uncovered for an additional 15 minutes. Until it begins to thicken.