There is a common occurrence around 3 am at our house, and it usually results in a new recipe idea. You see, when I find myself unable to stay asleep, my middle-of-the-night solution is to pick up my smart phone and start looking at Pinterest. It doesn’t take long before my insomnia-driven wanderings, combined with the rabbit-hole algorithms of their platform, usually leads me to imagine putting a ridiculous, over-the-top twist on favorite classic foods. On a recent sleepless night, however, I was inspired in a different way.
If there is truth in this quote (and, of course, there is), then I owe myself, and especially my physical body, an apology. At times, my enthusiasm for trying new things has caused me to put undue emphasis on foods that don’t serve me well, at least in terms of good health. I cannot eat s’mores ice cream and root beer-glazed baby back ribs all the time. I have to strike a balance with some good-for-me foods, too, and I’m overdue for some healthier stuff.
Rather than switch to an unsustainable “all salads” kind of menu plan, I decided to pull out some old tricks and use vegetables in creative ways to lighten up some foods that would otherwise be rich and decadent. The first recipe I drew from my archive is this silky “Alfredo.” It satisfies all my cravings for rich, creamy sauciness, but without the guilt or side effects associated with eating a ton of cream, butter and cheese. What kind of culinary wizardry is this, you may ask? And what ingredients could possibly achieve this?
Yes, the same fiber-rich vegetable that stands in for carbs as rice and pizza crust can also be transformed into a ribbony, sumptuous sauce that’s ready to be draped over your favorite whole grain pasta or veg’d out even further onto spiralized zucchini noodles. All you need is some broth, a bit of olive oil to roast the garlic and a good, powerful blender. After you puree it to smooth, silky perfection, you can swirl in a little cream for richness and a spoonful or two of Parmesan for zest and a lovely umami flavor. Of course, if you prefer to keep it entirely dairy free, you can do that, too. Perhaps swirl in a bit of creamy oat milk or almond milk and a tablespoon of nutritional yeast. Finally, a touch of olive oil emphasizes the silky mouthfeel that is just as important as ingredients for creating a satisfying food experience.
But does it really taste exactly like real Alfredo? Obviously, no, because it’s cauliflower. But it has a creamier texture than you would ever expect from such a fiber-rich vegetable, and it’s an easy, inexpensive way to satisfy your craving for creamy without the dietary downside. The roasted garlic provides a savory depth of flavor, and you can add just enough cream or half and half to trick your taste buds into thinking it is a traditional Alfredo. You will never miss the high-calorie ingredients, I promise, and this also happens to be a great way to “sneak” some veggies into a meal for an unsuspecting loved one.
In addition to the obvious use as a sauce for pasta, you could use this concoction in place of a béchamel in a casserole or veggie lasagna, or increase the broth or milk of choice and turn it into a creamy base for a comforting vegetable soup. As a bonus, you can warm up the leftovers without breaking the sauce into a greasy mess.
1 large head fresh cauliflower, separated into roughly uniform florets
1 or 2 whole bulbs garlic, roasted* (see notes)
1/2 cup chicken bone broth* (or mushroom or vegetable broth)
Salt and pepper
1 Tbsp. mild, neutral olive or avocado oil
3 Tbsp. half and half*
2 Tbsp. parm-romano blend*
If you are a garlic lover, I recommend using both bulbs of roasted garlic, which has a rich, mellow flavor because of the slow roasting. If you have never roasted garlic before, please give it a try because it is one of the best ways to add a rich flavor to a veggie-centered dish. Use the instructions I offered in my previous post for roasted garlic (a.k.a. best flavor ever), or if the oven heat is too much for your late summer comfort, a quick internet search will lead you to instructions for making it in an instant pot or slow cooker. Whatever method you choose, roast the bulbs until they are very soft, and a deep golden color.
I used chicken bone broth in my no-guilt Alfredo sauce, because I wanted the rich, savory flavor and I was not concerned about keeping it vegetarian. If you prefer, use a mushroom or veggie broth, preferably one that does not contain tomato, which changes the flavor significantly. You know what else would probably be really good? Miso broth!
The dairy items are totally optional, and depending on your preferences or diet restrictions, you have plenty of choices. OK with dairy but need it low fat? Try evaporated milk. Want it vegan? Go for a creamy (unflavored and unsweetened) oat or almond milk and consider adding a tablespoon of nutritional yeast for a cheesy, nutty flavor that is reminiscent of parmesan. Want your veggies and still craving cream? Add more half and half or heavy cream. You’re the boss. 😉
- Rinse and dissect the cauliflower into florets of approximately the same size to ensure even cooking. Use the thick stem parts, too, but trim off all visible layers of leaves.
- Add enough cold water to just cover the cauliflower in a large, heavy-bottomed sauce pot. Bring to a gentle boil and add a teaspoon of kosher salt to the water. Cover the pot and simmer over medium-low heat until the thickest stems and pieces of cauliflower are tender enough to be easily smashed with a fork.
- Drain the cauliflower in a large colander. Spread it out onto a parchment-lined baking sheet to cool a bit, and also to evaporate all of the excess moisture from the cauliflower.
- Combine the cooled cauliflower, broth and roasted garlic in a good blender, working in batches if necessary. Pulse a few times at first, then puree steadily until the mixture resembles sauce. Transfer mixture to a large bowl.
- Use a splash of additional broth or half and half (or substitute) to blend out the remaining sauce that clings to the sides of the blender. Stir that into the sauce, along with parm-romano blend, parmesan or nutritional yeast.
- For additional silkiness, stir in a tablespoon of mild, neutral-flavored olive oil or avocado oil. This will help your no-guilt Alfredo maintain a glossy saucy look and also adds a dose of heart-healthy Omega-3 fats.