It’s fairly obvious that I really love Italian comfort foods. Paleo has challenged me to swap the gluten and gooey cheesiness for fresh veggies and lots of spices. This stuff tastes just as good as the traditional recipes, but as one of my best friends says, eating this way makes you want to lick your plate and go back for seconds as opposed to feeling bloated and hating yourself after the meal.
Because Paleo is a grain-free experience, many of us Paleo bloggers try to concoct palatable alternatives for you. Zucchini noodles, gnocchi, tapioca and almond flour crusts… Surprisingly, you can enjoy your grain-based Italian favorites with a few smart tweaks and substitutions to eliminate the stuff that tear up your gut.
This week I played with using cauliflower as a lasagne noodle. It worked! This cauliflower lasagne is completely grain-free and dairy-free. I layered it with spinach and a simple bolognese of mirepoix, tomatoes, chicken stock and Italian sausage. I like to offer recipes that are as flexible as possible so you can make them your own… Kale, mushrooms, zucchini, asparagus? Toss in whatever veggies sound good to you and your family!
1 head of cauliflower (yields 6 cups chopped, raw)
2-3 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp Italian seasoning
2-3 carrots, peeled and chopped (1 cup)
1 small onion, diced (1.5 cups)
1 rib celery, diced (1/2 cup)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1/8 tsp cinnamon (and barely 1/8 tsp… it’s a dusting of cinnamon!)
pinch of red chili flakes (less than 10 flakes)
12 oz ground Italian sausage (the good stuff!)
1 – 14.5oz can organic diced tomatoes
1 – 15oz can organic tomato sauce
1 cup organic chicken stock
Extra virgin olive oil
Optional: Fresh basil and a couple handfuls of baby spinach
Start by making the cauliflower noodles. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (Fahrenheit). Remove the leaves and core from a head of cauliflower and start chopping the cauli into small pieces. I use my knife, but you can certainly do this in a food processor. My cauliflower yielded 6 cups, shoot for that on your end so that the egg ratio is close.
The cauliflower pieces need to be steamed; use whatever contraption you prefer. Stove-top or microwave makes no difference to me… I covered and microwaved for several minutes (about 6) until it was cooked but not total mush.
When hot, use a potato masher or pastry cutter to break down the cauliflower. Cauliflower releases a fair amount of liquid while it cooks, so try to drain off what you can. Then add the seasonings and combine. Add the eggs last and either continue using the masher to combine or grab a spatula… whatever works for you.
I am addicted to my silicone baking sheet and definitely recommend it, although basic parchment paper works as well, I’m told. There is no added fat (other than egg) to the cauliflower, so the sticking potential is high. Be sure to use one of the two. Spread the cauliflower dough/batter onto a large silicone baking sheet. You have to eyeball whatever baking dish you plan to use for the lasagna and think how large to spread out the cauliflower so that when you cut it in two large sections, the layers will fit squarely in the baking dish. Obviously you won’t be preparing a 10×13-sized casserole dish with only 6 cups of cauliflower, so make necessary adjustments. The dish I used is your basic oval 2.8 liter corning ware baker, about 8″ x 11″ x 3″. The picture below shows a standard-sized cookie sheet (American 17″ x 12″) and the cauli was about a half inch thick.
Bake the cauliflower for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. It needs to be a little overcooked and dried out since it will be soon layered with tomato saucy goodness.
While the cauliflower is in the oven, we need to make the bolognese.
Classic bolognese starts with mirepoix (carrot, onion and celery) and that’s what we’re going to do here. Heat a large or wide pan to medium or medium-high. This can be a dutch oven or even a large skillet. Drizzle in a couple tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil… enough to lightly coat the bottom of the pan.
While that comes to temp, peel and chop the carrots, dice the onion and the celery. Add those to the hot pan and sprinkle with the kosher salt and other seasonings. It will look kinda strange if you’re not in the habit of building sauces in this order, but roll with it. This method gets the oils going and rehydrates the dried herbs before the tomatoes hit. Sauté for about 4-5 minutes, then add minced garlic and the sausage. Cook until the sausage has browned. The canned diced tomatoes, tomato sauce and chicken stock now joins the party. Stir and simmer for 15 minutes or so on medium-low heat. Cover if your sauce starts to dry out (or if it’s splattering everywhere and making a mess of your stove).
When the cauliflower “noodle” has finished cooking, remove from oven and transfer to a large cutting board or work surface. Depending on the size and shape of your lasagne pan and thus the size and shape of your cauli noodle, divide into two sections that will perfectly layer your lasagne. Remove the bolognese from the heat and grab your baking dish.
To build the lasagne I layered like this:
1) about a cup of sauce
2) cauliflower “noodle”
3) half the remaining sauce
4) a couple handfuls of baby spinach
5) the second cauliflower “noodle”
6) the remaining sauce
Cover and bake at 350 for about 20-25 minutes. Just enough to bring everything together and for the sauce to get bubbly around the edges.
Serve with fresh basil for a dairy-free, grain-free DELICIOUS lasagne!
* * * * *
There are a couple things that make preparing this Cauliflower Lasagne easier: a food processor, a silicone baking sheet and a mesh bag for draining the cauliflower thoroughly.