When you saw the title of this post, you probably thought one of four things:
1. I love cauliflower! It’s great in risotto, I’ll get out my stash of Arborio rice
2. Risotto without rice? What kind of fraud of are you?
3. This will be perfect for dinner, because I’m not eating rice these days due to my grain-free/grass-fed/organic/protein-and-vegetable-based-lifestyle. And I’ve got lots of free-range elk sausage in my freezer to use up
4. Risotto made from cauliflower, that’s genius. Tell me more!
Hopefully, it was something along the lines of number three or four, but if not, let me explain. Originally, I started drooling thinking about a comforting, savory vegetable side dish that didn’t involve roasting; it had nothing to do with staying away from rice. Roasting is an awesome preparation for many vegetables, rendering them tender and caramelized, and cauliflower just might be best prepared roasted, but there comes a time when enough is enough and other methods must be explored.
Looking at the sachet of Hungarian saffron my brother brought back with him from his adventures in Europe this summer, I immediately thought of those wise Northern Italians who perfected the traditional Risotto alla Milanese, a creamy rice dish flavored with saffron, butter and cheese. Cauliflower loves cheese and butter, and so do I!
I reasoned there was no way cauliflower wouldn’t taste absolutely delicious when prepared in the same, slowly simmered method with white wine and stock, finished with a pat of butter, handful of grainy, salty Grana Padano cheese and cracked black pepper. I also opted for an additional flavor boost from some savory elk sausage, a lovely Christmas gift from friends in Montana. Another brilliant idea, but pancetta would be good too, as it almost always is.
As per usual, I was right; it was delicious. Wait, you already knew butter and cheese make everything taste amazing? Cool, glad we’re on the same page here. Whether you are eating carbs like there’s no tomorrow or living like a caveman, this dish will be sure to please. Unless you’re a vegan. Then it will be the opposite of pleasing.
Saffron Cauliflower Risotto with Elk Sausage
Here’s a little tip for those of you without room in your budge for saffron purchases—a pinch of turmeric will provide a hint of bright yellow color similar to that of pricy saffron. Careful though, a little goes a long way.
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 ounces finely diced, cured elk sausage or pancetta (optional)
½ medium onion, finely diced
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 large head cauliflower
1 cup dry white wine
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup grated Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat the olive oilin a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the sausage (or bacon) and cook for 2-3 minutes, until light brown; add the onion and continue to cook for another couple minutes, until transluscent.
Heat the stock to a simmer in a small saucepot or in the microwave. Add the saffron and set aside.
Meanwhile, cut the cauliflower into chunks and pulse in a food processor until chopped into small pieces (about 1/4-inch). Reserve 1 cup of the cauliflower and set aside for later; add remaining the cauliflower to the sausage and onion and stir to coat. Pour in the wine, saffron infused stock, salt and stir to combine.
Cover the pot and bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes until the cauliflower is tender. Add the reserved cauliflower and cook for another 5 minutes then remove from the heat and stir in the butter, cheese and black pepper to taste; add more salt if necessary. Serve immediately.