This article originally appeared on October 12, 2013. I'm republishing it today because I went on an insane cauliflower kick this week, and also for the lesser reason that I couldn't find good ingredients for what I wanted to cook. If you're looking for something especially St. Patrick's Day-ish, put some chopped chives and parsley atop your mashed cauliflower when you serve it, so that no one will punch it for not wearing green.
The first thing to do is clear up any misconceptions that the reason to make mashed cauliflower, and not mashed potatoes, is that mashed cauliflower is the more calorically or nutritionally upstanding choice. If that is what you are thinking, stop thinking that, because that is stupid. You're stupid.
There may indeed be some nutrition-affirmative basis for saying that the below foodstuff is better for you—if, say, mashed cauliflower contains some essential or beneficial vitamin or mineral or some such that the potato does not. It's certainly friendlier to the popular low-carbohydrate diets currently acidifying the blood of every white person in North America. However, at least in the preparation you are about to deploy, mashed cauliflowersure as shit also contains a few things that are very, very bad for you (not least among these is a fucking fuckload of calories), and it contains these things because they taste good and will make you happy, at least in the near term, and for this we will forgive the many years of shuffleboard and blue pants they will assuredly sand off the back end of your lifespan.
This is to say that, whether or not it turns out that you can edge closer to your FDA recommended daily intake of riboflavin (or whatever the fuck) via its consumption, the reason to make mashed cauliflower is that it tastes goddamn amazing—wildly different from mashed potatoes, and quite possibly a great deal better if you can detach from the nostalgic familiarity of mashed potatoes, and goddamn amazing. Amazing enough that, frankly, whatever physiological good it may do—whether by supplying some healthful nutrient or averting the carbo-nihilation of starchier potatoes—is nigh irrelevant.
Skeptical? Making a cocked-eyebrow doubt-face? This is why everybody thinks you're a jerk. Let's make some and you can see for yourself.
To begin, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. While that's happening, achieve a steamed head of cauliflower. Decide for yourself how you want to make that happen: If you'd like to dump an entire intact head of cauliflower into a steamer pot and steam it for a while, that's fine; if you want to nuke a big bag or two of frozen cauliflower florets, that's also OK.
Steaming an entire intact head of cauliflower is great because it gives you fresh (and thus better-tasting) cauliflower with virtually no work involved: You dump the head of cauliflower into a big pot with an inch or two of water, you clamp a lid on the thing, you crank up the heat, and you walk away for, what, like, a half-hour or so, until the cauliflower is steamed through and you can lightly jab a fork into it here and there with virtually no effort and pretend that you are enacting grisly comeuppance upon Rick Reilly. This is a great option if, like most decent people, you are a lazy, inadequately anthropomorphized bag of dirt, but also for some reason happen to have stumbled across a head of fresh cauliflower when you were neglecting to go to the grocery store for the many housewares and foodstuffs your home critically lacks. The drawbacks are: that this will take a great deal longer than just nuking a couple of dumb bags of frozen cauliflower florets; and that during all this time you will have to keep an eye on the proceedings in case all the water in the pot steams away and your stovetop very hastily starts to resemble a nuclear reactor.
Which, OK, that kinda spoils the surprise of the benefits of nuking a couple of dumb bags of frozen cauliflower. Microwaving frozen cauliflower will, indeed, produce adequately steamed cauliflower in a very short span of time. On the other hand, this cauliflower will likely taste like crap, or anyway it will taste more like crap than cauliflower ought to taste, because generally speaking cauliflower ought not to taste even a little bit like crap. We're not here to judge—if frozen cauliflower works for you, go for it—but since we've already established at length that our goal here is a tasty foodstuff and not merely a cauliflowery alternative to mashed potatoes, maybe you ought to go for the tastier approach.
But wait! There's a middle path, and that's to get a head of fresh cauliflower and chop it into small hunks before you steam it. This approach will reduce the cauliflower's steaming time considerably (although it will replace some of this time with time spent chopping cauliflower), which will mean that you won't have to worry as much about running out of steaming liquid unless you totally forget about your mashed-cauliflower undertaking and, like, go to the library, which is probably what you're gonna do, because you have the attention span of a shoehorn.
In any event, however you approach the Steamed Cauliflower Conundrum, steam the shit until it's soft enough that you can stab it with a fork with no real effort, even in the fibrous stem sections. Once you've accomplished that, remove the cauliflower from the heat, either to a big bowl or to the inside of your very large food processor or blender, and add some other stuff to your hot steamed cauliflower. A cup or so of some manner of milk (heavy cream is wonderful, as you might imagine, but regular ol' milk is OK too—although, if all you've got is skim, all you're really adding is wateriness), a hearty fistful of grated Parmesan, a bunch of freshly ground black pepper, a pinch of salt—and goddammit, yes, you goddamn Puritans, like four or five huge, heaping tablespoons of real-deal full-fat by-God cream cheese, damn you. Do an extra 10 minutes of fucking Zumba or CrossFit or yogalataebo or whatever-the-fuck tomorrow, if that'll make you feel better about it. The cream cheese is going to give your mashed cauliflower a silky, smooth, rich texture that, when you taste it, is going to cause your tongue to curl up and follow the mashed cauliflower down your throat into your stomach so that they can be alone together in the dark.
Now, exactly where you've added this stuff to your hot steamed cauliflower is up to you. If you have a blender or food processor that can handle this much stuff all at once (or even in two batches), that's splendid, even if some contingent of food dorks kicks down your door to point out that it's supposed to be mashed cauliflower, and not blended or whipped or food-processed cauliflower. Truthfully, the righteous ass-kicking your cauliflower will receive from a food processor or blender will also whip some amount of air into it (especially if you used cream instead of milk), giving it a lighter, fluffier texture that, oh man, ohmanohmanohman. If, on the other hand, you just have a big bowl and a potato-masher (or sturdy wire whisk or a big fork or the cleanest tree-branch you could find), that's OK, too. Your finished product will be a bit denser and likely lumpier than the machine-assisted stuff, but you can make that OK by calling it "homestyle" or "rustic" or by drunkenly admonishing your guests that they're lucky to have gotten anything at all.
In any case, get to mashing (or, y'know, push the "On" button on your blender or food processor). Mash and mash and mash. Work quickly so that the cream cheese can melt and get mixed into the cauliflower before things cool off too much for any melting to occur. Eventually, after a few minutes of this, the contents of your bowl or food processor or blender will have transmuted from disparate ingredients into one coherent, white, incredible-smelling paste. Scoop some onto the tip of a spoon and taste it. Adjust the seasoning if you like, stir, and taste again. Mmm-hmm. That is take-your-shirt-off good—but it's also likely a little bit cool, by now. Not to worry.
Haul out a casserole dish or deep-sided baking pan and transfer the mashed cauliflower into the baking vessel. Go ahead and smooth the surface with a wooden spoon or spatula so that it looks nice and pretty even though you are going to slurp it into your face like some kind of crazed monster as soon as it is finished cooking. Now, top the mashed cauliflower with, in order: another fistful of the grated Parmesan, a few more cracks of black pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil. Cram the mashed cauliflower into your preheated oven and bake it for a while. Twenty minutes? Half-hour? However long it takes for the surface to bubble and begin browning here and there.
Yank that fucker outta there. It's time to eat.
Serve your mashed cauliflower with whatever you want, of course. It's best as a side; the richness and smoothness pair splendidly as a counter to piquant, acidic foods, so if you've got some of those, they'll get along very well. But! The very best thing to do with your mashed cauliflower is to plop down a heap of it on a plate next to a steak, as you might do in your typical steak-and-potatoes configuration. Let it mingle with the steak's juices, and dredge bites of meat through it on their way to your slavering maw. Holy shit. That's better than mashed potatoes, isn't it? Silkier and smoother and more interesting, the nutty and sweet cauliflower and the rich, indulgent cream and cream cheese, the complementary pungency of the Parmesan and black pepper—is it particularly nutritionally virtuous? Who gives a frig! It goddamn tastes great; if it should happen to load your body with friggin' niacin or some shit, that's just a bonus.
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Albert Burneko is an eating enthusiast and father of two. His writing appeared in Best Food Writing 2014 by DaCapo Press. Peevishly correct his foolishness on Twitter @albertburneko, or send him your creepy longform hate-missives at firstname.lastname@example.org. Image by Sam Woolley.