Can You Caul It Crust?

Cauliflower is the new wonder vegetable. Apparently, it can be transformed into a substitute for anything–rice, pasta, even chicken wings! I started seeing cauliflower in the frozen pizza aisle marketed as a gluten-free crust, and of course my curiosity was piqued. Obviously, it was never going to really compete with a classic crunchy-chewy pizza dough made of high-gluten flour, but I was willing to try it for The Challenge.

One immediate problem was which one to choose? Vegetarian/vegan options are really hit and miss. Some brands of some items are quite tasty, but others are so bad they barely qualify as food. Given that cauliflower has essentially none of the properties of flour, I was certain some of the pizzas before me were going to be downright gross. I didn’t want to dismiss the whole concept if I had one bad experience, but trying all the varieties seemed like more effort (and potential disappointment) than I was willing to put toward this particular project.

To solve that problem, I decided to throw a party! I could sample all the pizzas while forcing my guests to taste-test them as well. I could simultaneously justify the expense and minimize the leftovers. Have I mentioned I’m a genius?

Turns out, I’m a genius with supremely stodgy friends. Not one person wanted to join me for this particular culinary adventure! Alas, I had already bought two Open Nature alternative-crust pizzas on sale, so I was committed. (Luckily that’s all this grocery store had, otherwise I would have had a freezer full!) Although my original plan to try several varieties was thwarted, I can still offer my taste test of the two I purchased.

The first I tried was the one with cauliflower crust. The directions said to bake it at 425 degrees for 11-14 minutes, but the outer rim was a deep golden brown when the timer went off at 11 minutes. I pulled it immediately (even though the cheese looked like it was barely melted) because I didn’t want the crust to burn. As with all thin-crust pizzas, you want to cut and eat it immediately because it cools super quick.

My first bite was a pleasant surprise! As predicted, the outer crust was dry as a cracker, but the inner crust under the toppings was unexpectedly chewy. This particular pizza had a red sauce with chicken sausage and peppers, and the flavor had a hint of black pepper that tied it all together. I’d anticipated having to choke it down to get my money’s worth, but I happily snarfed the entire pizza in one sitting! (Yes, I’m a pig, but it really was that good.)

The second pizza had a broccoli crust, of all things! I had really intended to focus on cauliflower only, but I couldn’t resist the absolute weirdness of a broccoli-based pizza crust. Remember, I’d been planning to pawn all this pizza off onto my friends, so I thought I’d be able to slip one more oddball into the mix. Once that plan fell through and I realized I had to eat it myself, I put it off for a long time. I just couldn’t get past the very idea of broccoli on the bottom. I realize this makes absolutely no sense in light of the fact that I have voluntarily consumed regular-crust veggie pizzas with broccoli as a topping. However, such incongruities don’t even register in my mind as contradictions. Everyone has irrationalities when it comes to food.

The packaging billed it as a “broccoli and cheddar” crust, and the bottom did have a mottled appearance as if the two ingredients weren’t well mixed. Perhaps finely chopped broccoli doesn’t have the structural integrity of cauliflower, and they needed to have larger chunks held together with cheese mortar. Regardless, the pizza cooked the same–I pulled it right at 11 minutes when the cheese had just melted for fear of burning the crust. Again, the outer rim was well done and the interior was not crispy, but it tasted ok. I thought the texture was less enjoyable than the cauliflower crust. It felt less like pizza and more like a really thin veggie fritter. It didn’t help that this particular variety also had broccoli as a topping. That reinforced the taste and feel of plant stalk instead of chewy bread-like crust. It was still edible though. I killed it in one sitting, same as the other.

My conclusion after this experience is that cauliflower crust is better than I thought it would be, due largely to the flavor of the toppings on this particular brand of pizza. I don’t think I would consider cauliflower crust an actual substitute (unless I was serving a gluten-free guest) because the texture is too different, but I still enjoyed the taste and the novelty. I would mentally classify it under fusion foods, like wonton tacos. The presentation is similar, but your tastebuds avoid unmet expectations if your brain considers this variation an entirely separate dish from the original. It’s not the real thing, but it can be really tasty!

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