For love of the comfort casserole: beef and cauliflower bake


I'm not sure if it's because I was preoccupied with how my family was doing back east, buffering against the onslaught of Sandy, or if it's simply because mornings are cold and dark right now; but whatever the reason, this week has been, and continues to be, boosted by comfort food. Speaking of, I have a new favorite. It's got the warmth and substance of a pasta bake, only there's not much in the way of  dairy (which is optional), and instead of pasta, there's...cauliflower.

I love cauliflower. Perhaps it's paleness renders it a little shy. Therefore, it's often upstaged by the other, bolder crucifers, and overlooked.

I should tell you, in spite of the fact that wisdom repeatedly reminds us not to overcook our vegetables (cruciferous ones in particular, often), I do like soggy(ish) broccoli and cauliflower. Not to imply this recipe boasts soggy cauli;  just letting you know, in case that sorry fact is important for your planning. Actually, cauliflower is rather tender and sensitive. It's the exception to the rule, the rule being that when in doubt, microwaving is a top means of cooking vegetables in order to retain nutrition content. Unlike other veggies, however, cauliflower loses fifty percent of its nutrients when zapped.

Studies have linked cauliflower to aiding prevention of bladder, breast, colon, prostate, and ovarian cancers. A serving provides a whopping dose of vitamin C (nearly 86 percent of the DV), and it's  a good source of vitamin K, reputed for it's anti-inflammatory potency, as well as a host of other nutrients. Plus, it's delicious. And, who knew it could bulk up a casserole to satisfaction level much the same as pasta, potatoes, or rice?

We're not trying to avoid grains in our house. We love them. But we are trying to improve the balance of food groups that make their way to our plates on a daily basis. What this really means is, more vegetables throughout the day. Sometimes it means fish for breakfast, too. This week, it means cauliflower with meat sauce, and it's splendid.

Lean beef and cauliflower bake

This recipe was inspired by a Baked Italian-style Cauliflower from Cooking Light (Nov/2011); I tweaked it a little, using more meat; cutting the bread crumbs; using crushed tomatoes; herbs; and balsamic vinegar in place of prepared sauce; and adding a solid punch of spinach. Finally, I baked instead of broiled. 

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • dash sea salt
  • dash crushed red pepper
  • 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup sliced black olives
  • 4 cups  fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1 medium cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  1. Heat a large skillet or frying pan over medium heat. Add oil to pan, and swirl to coat. Add onion and saute 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and continue to heat, stirring, 30 seconds more.
  2. Add meat to pan. Cook, stirring, to brown, then stir in seasoning blend, salt, and pepper.
  3. Stir crushed tomatoes, water, vinegar, spinach and olives to meat mixture. Cover and let simmer 5 minutes.
  4. Steam cauliflower until crisp-tender, about 3-4 minutes. Place in a casserole or baking dish (I used 9X13) coated with cooking spray. Top with sauce and sprinkle with cheese.
  5. Bake at 350 F for 15 minutes.