Credit: Earl Carter

Vegan cauliflower pie

Annie Smithers is the owner and chef of du Fermier in Trentham, Victoria. Her latest book is Recipe for a Kinder Life. She is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.

Credit: Earl Carter

There are some food combinations that are absolute winners. One is cauliflower and cheese – especially when the cheese component is a good gruyere. Add a little truffle, sage and browned butter and you have a real winter treat.

That does not suit everyone, however, and, in particular, it does not suit my partner, who has shifted from vegetarian to dairy-free vegetarian. Cheese, milk and butter are now out. So I have decided to work on a new combination and make a little vegan cauliflower pie.

Cauliflower seems to have become one of the glamour ingredients in the world of food today. It is used obsessively by the carbohydrate-neutral folk as a rice substitute. It is loved by vegans and vegetarians for its versatility and adaptability to different cuisines. For the home gardener though, it can be a little temperamental to grow. I love the Romanesco variety, whose inherent beauty comes from its very obvious adherence to Fibonacci’s golden ratio. I also grow the white and green varieties, along with the odd orange one. In years past I grew the purple variety, until I found that (a) it was a broccoli and (b) it went the most dismal colour when cooked.

Caulis need a little more care in the garden than broccoli or cabbage. If growing them when it is warm or frosty, it is best to tie the leaves like a topknot to maintain the snowy whiteness of the heads beneath. Cauliflowers can also have a tendency to not form tight heads, or “curds” as they are sometimes called.

With this little pie I have prepared the cauliflower in three ways and used a sheet of brik pastry. (Filo is a perfectly acceptable substitute.) Lining a small cake tin, I have created three layers of different textures to show off the cauliflower’s versatility. You don’t have to be vegan to find it delicious.


Serves 2

  • 1 x 10cm pie/cake tin (a small springform works best)
  • 1 cauliflower
  • 500ml oat milk
  • 3 sprigs sage
  • salt flakes
  • olive oil
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 sheets brik pastry or 2 sheets filo pastry
  • fresh truffle (optional)
  1. Separate the cauliflower into small to medium-sized florets. Divide into three.
  2. Place one third in a small saucepan and add 250 millilitres of the oat milk, a sprig of sage and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the cauliflower can be coarsely mashed with a fork. Depending on the evaporation rate of the oat milk, you may need to drain some off. If you do, reserve it.
  3. For the second third, preheat the oven to 200ºC. Place the cauliflower on a lightly oiled tray, then drizzle with a little olive oil. Strip the leaves off another sprig of sage and sprinkle them on top of the cauliflower along with some salt flakes. Roast for about 10 minutes until the florets are a little golden. Set aside.
  4. For the final third of cauliflower, slice the onion thinly and crush the garlic clove with a little salt. Place a little olive oil in a small, heavy-based saucepan on medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for about 10-15 minutes until very soft and a little caramelised. Add the remaining oat milk and any liquid left over from the first puree. Add the remaining cauliflower and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil and then turn to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes or until the cauliflower is very soft. Strain any liquid off and puree in a food processor, adding the liquid back until you have a smooth, sauce-like consistency. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary.
  5. To assemble, oil the tin a little and line it with baking paper that extends slightly over the tin edge so you can use it to lift the pie out. Line this with pastry. If using brik, trim with scissors so there is a little ruffle protruding from the top. If using filo, brush the sheets with a little olive oil, cut out a circle and line the tin.
  6. Place the coarse cauliflower mash in the bottom, arrange the roasted florets on top, then spoon over the sauce/puree. Place in the oven, still at 200ºC, and bake for about 15 minutes or until the pastry is crisp.
  7. Once done, remove from the oven and set aside. While the pie is cooling, warm three tablespoons of olive oil in a pan with the leaves of the last sprig of sage over medium heat until the leaves are crisp.
  8. Unmould the pie, pour over the sage oil and shave some truffle over the top.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 15, 2020 as "Hello, cauli!".

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