Other Names: Cabbage flower, cavolfiore (Italy), chou-fleur (France).

General Description: Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea, Botrytis group) is a head of white flower buds in the cabbage family. Cauliflower was first grown in the Middle East—perhaps in Cyprus—although no one is sure when. By the Middle Ages, Arab growers had many highly developed cauliflower varieties. By the 16th century, imported cauliflower from the East had become the rage at the French court; it was featured in rich dishes with cream, sweetbreads, foie gras, and truffles. Middle Eastern and Indian dishes use bold spices to bring excitement to this mild, self-effacing vegetable.

Like its closest cousin broccoli, cauliflower is made up of flowers that began to form but stopped growing at the bud stage. The thick stems under the buds store the nutrients that would have gone into the flowers and eventually their fruits. Cauliflower is therefore rich in vitamins and minerals; one serving can provide the entire daily requirement of vitamin C.

Growing cauliflower is very demanding. Much of the work of planting and harvesting must be done by hand because of its delicate nature. To keep the cauliflower head creamy white, it must be protected from the sun to prevent the development of chlorophyll, which would turn it green.

Season: Fresh cauliflower is available year-round, though colder months yield the best quality.

Purchase: Cauliflower should have creamy white, compact curds with bright green, firmly attached leaves. Some small leaves extending through the curds do not affect quality.

Avoid: Old cauliflower can have tiny black mold spots on the florets or yellow, wilted leaves.

Storage: Place cauliflower in a plastic bag and refrigerate in the crisper for up to 1 week.

Preparation: # Pull off and discard the green leaves, exposing the stem and core.

  1. Using a small, sharp knife, cut around the core in a cone shape, pull it out, and discard.
  2. Cut away any black mold spots.
  3. Separate the florets by cutting them apart.

Note: The pleasing flavor of cauliflower is fresher tasting and less “cabbagey” when it is cooked briefly in boiling water. To tone down the odor when cooking cauliflower, add celery seeds or celery leaves to the pot.

Serving Suggestions: Make a creamed cauliflower soup known as crème Dubarry. Mix cooked florets with Gruyère cheese sauce and bake into a gratin. Serve raw cauliflower florets with curry dip.

Flavor Affinities: Anchovy, butter, chervil, chives, cream, curry, garlic, ginger, Gruyère cheese, lemon, mustard seed, olives, Parmesan cheese, thyme, turmeric.

from Quirk Books: