Englewood competitive chef Linda Bonwill grew up in a big Italian family in­ Connecticut. When she went gluten-free, she practically wept over “not being able to eat New Haven-style tomato pie. Gluten-free crust just isn’t the same.”

She might have an answer, now that the humble cauliflower is having a moment.

Amid the upsurge of gluten-free, low-carb, low-calorie, keto, paleo, and vegan, plant-based diets, people still crave their pizza.

Now they can purge that urge with cauliflower crust—a chewy, yet crisp, always-thin pizza crust that still meets their dietary needs.

According to Healthline.com, cauliflower is so low in calories, at 25 calories per cup, that you can eat almost as much of it as you want without gaining weight. It’s also loaded with health benefits, including vitamins like C, minerals, fiber and antioxidants.

It was only a matter of time before some genius made pizza crust with the stuff.

Christen Rossow and Laurie McDonough come to Port Charlotte’s Pioneers Pizza every week for their cauliflower-crust pizza fix.

Rossow said, “I can’t have gluten because I’m allergic, and Laurie was looking to reduce her carbs, so we were really excited when they introduced it here. It’s really crispy. We’ve tried frozen supermarket crusts, but they’re mushy and too cauliflower-tasting.”

But there are still a few points to ponder about cauliflower crust.

IS IT HEALTHY FOR YOU?

Cauliflower crust is a dandy option for those seeking fewer carbs and no gluten or wheat. But don’t count on its packing fewer calories. Some is even higher in calories than a thin, whole-wheat pizza crust. Load it with oil, cheese and fatty toppings like sausage and pepperoni, and you might be better off with a Big Mac.

Cauliflower crust might have a lower carb count, but ingredients like cornstarch, cornmeal and flours made of rice, chickpeas, almonds or potatoes don’t leave it exactly carb free. It sometimes isn’t vegan, either, given that cauliflower crusts are often bound with animal-product eggs and cheese.

Local plant-based cardiologist Dr. Jaimela Dulaney warns, “Cauliflower crusts are not healthy because they’re full of oil and, often, eggs.”

Vegan Naples Realtor Mike Young, founder of SWFL Veg Fest and aPlantBasedDiet.org, swears, “Cauliflower crust done right is delicious! As long as there are no animal products in it, it's vegan.”

CRUSTS BY THE NUMBERS

The savvy shopper reads nutrition labels. Let’s look at the numbers from two supermarket brands that are available locally.

Green Giant’s Cauliflower Pizza Crust has 80 calories per piece, 1 gram of fat and 16 grams of carbohydrates. Caulipower’s has 85 calories, 3 grams of fat and 13 grams of carbs.

You can see the attraction when you compare it with regular pizza crust at twice that amount: 182 calories, 2.7 grams of fat and 35 grams of carbs.

TASTE AND TEXTURE

Pioneers Pizza in Port Charlotte uses Parmesan, rice and corn flour to make a cauliflower crust that comes out of the oven quite crisp.

Rosemary Ferranti of Port Charlotte raved about it. “I had the cauliflower crust with vegan cheese, black olives and anchovies. Very crispy. Delicious. Didn’t think I would like the vegan cheese but it was so good.”

“I wasn’t big on the idea of cauliflower pizza,” admitted manager David Coffey at Port Charlotte’s Luigi’s. “Until I tried it, and it was phenomenal! I suggest that people who want to try it, without buying a full pie, come to our lunch buffet, where they can sample slices of a white (ricotta, mozzarella, tomato, spinach and garlic), a veggie and a plain cheese for the $7.95 buffet price.”

Luigi’s is a softer thin crust than Pioneers’, but with a crispy outer edge. Its hint of cauliflower flavor supports and enhances the toppings’ flavors, making for a unique pizza experience.

Michelle Mandile of Port Charlotte tried Luigi’s and said, “We don’t expect restaurants to cater to our health needs but so thankful for the ones who do! The pizza was amazing, my husband didn’t believe it was cauliflower crust!”

Punta Gorda’s Vic’s Primo Pizzas manager Shelly Roath said, “Ours is an amazing gluten-free crust. We found a new Parmesan-cauliflower-rice-flour crust that gets nice and crispy.”

Rina DeFazio Remmers, co-owner of Nicola’s Italian Kitchen in Englewood, said, “Ours is made with cauliflower, low-moisture mozzarella, rice flour, sugar, yeast and egg whites. I eat gluten free by preference and I really like our crust. I also bake it with a little olive oil and garlic and eat it plain.”

Our recommendation? Limit the pizza sauce, which can overpower the crust, and don’t be shy about cheese.

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