‘Cheesy’ cauliflower soup or a pasta bake

Back in August last year, I posted a recipe using cauliflower as a base for a white sauce http://foodiesensitive.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/saucy-cauliflower.html. Since then, I have experimented further with the good old cauli and discovered another way to make a sauce that tastes remarkably like cheese sauce. Doesn’t seem possible I know, but it’s not just me that thinks that – my family have commented on it’s cheesy-ness (dairy and non-dairy eaters alike) as well as it’s general gorgeousness

And the secret – roast the cauliflower florets first.

The idea actually came from soup, as so many good things do! Browsing through my Rachel Allen cook book, I found her recipe for cauliflower soup that included the use of ground almonds to thicken the texture. At the same time, I remembered a Guardian newspaper article featuring the 10 best cauliflower recipes (I do read a lot about food!), one of which had been a whole roasted cauli. Roasting concentrates the sugars in the florets, caramelising them slightly as well as giving a slight nutty flavour. It’s delicious just by itself. The magic comes by adding it to a base of onion, garlic and ground almonds and simmering it in some stock. Once pureed, it somehow tastes cheesy, and has a slightly coarse cheesy texture.

What’s more, it doesn’t take long to make it. In fact, my first experiment with roasting was to make the soup, which I actually made in the morning before going to work. I was so excited about the flavour I force fed it to everyone whilst they were trying to eat their breakfast (it doesn’t go so well with porridge apparently!). For the pasta bake, the sauce takes the same time to cook as the pasta, and the oven is already hot and ready to use for the baking, so it’s an easy, midweek supper for when you’re running low on time and inspiration.

And the ultimately amazing fact about this soup/sauce is that it is dairy free, gluten free and just perfect for a plant based whole food diet.  Low in fat, high in fibre, packed with nutrients and generally just fabulous. If you think I’m over excited, try it for yourself and you’ll understand why!

Roasted cauliflower soup
1 medium sized cauli, broken into florets
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
olive oil
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons ground almonds
1 litre veg stock
600ml almond milk
salt and pepper
Heat the oven to 180oC. Pop a tiny amount of olive oil onto a roasting tray and spread the cauliflower florets out over it, turning them around to spread the oil. Place in the oven for 10 minutes or so until the florets start to caramelise (see picture). Remove from the oven.
Whilst the cauli is roasting, heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a large pan and gently sauté the onion until soft. Add the garlic and continue to sauté for a minute or so. Don’t let it burn. Stir in the ground almonds, then add the roasted cauli, bay leaves and enough stock to cover. Simmer for another 10 minutes or so until the cauliflower is well cooked. Turn off the heat and cool slightly, remove the bay leaves, then transfer to a blender, adding the almond milk and seasoning. Blend until you get a voluptuously thick puree, adding more milk or stock as needed to get a good soupy consistency. Return to the pan, check the seasoning, add more as needed, reheat and serve.

‘Cheesy’ cauliflower pasta bake
Ingredients as above, omitting the almond milk.
400g wholewheat or brown rice pasta
2 large tomatoes, sliced
few handfuls of baby spinach (optional)
Put a large pan of water on to boil and cook the pasta according to packet instructions. In the meantime, follow the recipe as above. When adding the stock, use enough to just cover the cauli and no more – you can always add more later if needed. Once the cauliflower mix has been through the blending process, it should be thick and very sauce-like. If too thick, add a little more stock.
Drain the cooked pasta and pour in the cheesy cauliflower sauce, mixing well and adding more seasoning if needed (seasoning really is key to this dish). Mix together well. Spread out the spinach over the base of a large baking dish and pour the pasta and cauliflower sauce over the top. Place the tomato slices on the top and bake in the oven for 10 minutes or so until the tomatoes are cooked and the top slightly brown. Serve with some extra greens if required and enjoy!

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