Cauliflower Puree with Browned Bits

Cauliflower, you are having your moment. Recipes call out from blogs, newspapers, restaurant menus and TV. While this was not one of my favorite veggies until recently, this keeper was one of the first repeat recipes I taught and remains as popular today as it was when first debuted nine years ago. Long time Essen cooks have often called this the Essen dish they make most often. From the get go, I was never looking for a low/no-carb mashed potato replacement. “Celebrate this dish for what it is – a creamy, soothing, comfort food take on cauliflower,” I would urge. And you know the rest – delicious, quick, easy, budget-friendly, goes with most everything and is beloved by all ages, cauliflower haters included.

Like most of my favorite recipes, it’s the cooking technique that I’d hope would be the biggest take away. The success of this dish is the creamy feeling in your mouth, with a minimal amount of added liquids or fats. Your taste buds are hit with a comprehensive cauliflower experience, in part because you don’t cook the veg in water, where the flavor and nutrients are thrown down the drain, but in the dairy products you might normally add to complete the cooked, mashed veggies. The tiniest pat of butter pulls it all together. Feel free to add more as you choose; you’ll be surprised how little you’ll need.

Like all great dishes, improvement is never far away. I was recently cooking this dish with a family as part of their Christmas gift to each other. Our menu needed a little more crunch, the depth of flavor you get only from brown food. Our oven was hot and we decided to try something new. We took a small handful of cauliflower florets, drizzled with olive oil and salt, and roasted them until a deep, dark brown. To be honest, we forgot about them until the intense aroma reminded us we had something in the oven. The dishes my cooking buddies most anticipated, including Truffled Mushroom Soup and Seared Steak with Pomegranate Pan Sauce, were devoured without hesitation. They only asked for seconds of the cauliflower.

Filed in: Vegetables

Cauliflower Puree

Serves 1 to 8 (you'll see)

1 small cauliflower, cut into small florets, divided

olive oil (optional)

1/2 cup skim milk

1/2 cup half and half (if using whole milk, double amount of milk and leave this out)

1 teaspoon butter

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg


  1. Get ready. (optional) Heat oven to 425F.
  2. Cook the cauliflower. (optional) Place 1 handful cauliflower on rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and a spinkle of salt.  Roast until pretty darn dark brown, and definitely not burned, about 10 – 15 minutes. Set aside.
  3. In a large saucepan, combine the cauliflower, milk and half and half, if using, a pinch of salt, and simmer, uncovered, over medium heat until tender, about 15 minutes.   Stir from time to time to prevent the cauliflower from sticking to the pan.
  4. Puree. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cauliflower to a food processor or blender. Process to blend.
  5. Season and serve. Add the butter and nutmeg and process to a fine puree. Add just enough of the reserved liquid to give it a smooth, light consistency. Season to taste. Top with browned bits. Serve warm.