Cauliflower: Kitchen Basics

Cauliflower and lettuce saladPick up a palm-sized head of cauliflower and you will have the makings of a tasty snack.

Raw or steamed until tender-crisp and then chilled, florets of cauliflower can be dipped in guacamole, curried mayonnaise, or Russian dressing.

You can marinade raw or parboiled florets in a vinaigrette dressing and then mix them with broccoli, pimiento, mushrooms, and onions.

And, of course, as the French have done for nearly four centuries, steamed or boiled cauliflower can be buttered or dressed with a white or cheese sauce.

Spring and fall are the best times of the year to find abundant offerings of fresh, local cauliflower at your farm market.

The perfect thing about cauliflower is that the size of a head of cauliflower is no indicator of quality. Big heads or small snack-sized heads–as long as they are fresh–will be equally tasty.

Cauliflower is a single-stalked, fleshy-stemmed plant with compact curd-shaped flower heads surrounded by large green leaves. A cauliflower plant can grow from18 to 24 inches (45-61 cm) tall.

The cauliflower is a member of the cabbage family and a close cousin of broccoli. There are white, green, and purple headed varieties of cauliflower. White-curd cauliflower has a mild cabbage-like flavor. Green and purple varieties are milder yet.

Purple-headed cauliflower is sometimes called Purple Cape broccoli.

Romanesca cauliflower–also called Romanesco–is a warm weather or late summer cauliflower with an unusual look. Romanesco has a tight, compact head of florets like common cauliflower but is lime green and shaped like an upside down cone. It can be cooked just like common cauliflower.

Broccoflower is a hybrid cross between broccoli and cauliflower with a light green cauliflower head and a mild taste. It too can be prepared just like regular cauliflower.

Choose. Select heads of cauliflower that are firm, compact and creamy white. If the leaves are attached they should be bright green. Fresh outer leaves indicate that head is fresh.

Avoid cauliflower with florets that are dull or spotted or with yellow, wilted leaves.

Store. Unwashed cauliflower will keep in a perforated bag in the refrigerator for 10 days. Cooked cauliflower will keep for just 2 or 3 days.

Cauliflower will keep in the freezer for up to 4 months if you first blanch it for 3 minutes in boiling water.

Cauliflower can be pickled in vinegar and brine and canned for up to 1 year.

Cooking. Before cooking cauliflower, remove the tough lower stalk just below the head then slice the curd into pieces of similar size for even cooking.

  • Simmer cauliflower in an uncovered pan for 5 to 10 minutes if the curd has been cut into small pieces of similar size. A whole head may take as long as 30 minutes to simmer. You can add a little lemon juice to heighten the flavor.
  • Steam florets for 10 to 15 minutes or until crunchy tender; remove the lid frequently to release cooking gases.
  • Sauté or stir-fry florets and stems cut to the same size until they are tender.
  • Pan-fry or deep-fat-fry cauliflower in a wet batter until the crust is golden brown.
  • To prevent cauliflower from discoloring during cooking, add a tablespoon of lemon juice or one cup of milk to the cooking water. To absorb cooking odors, add a piece of bread to the water when boiling cauliflower.
  • Do not cook cauliflower in aluminum or iron pots; a chemical reaction will turn the cauliflower yellow, brown or blue-green.

Serve. Serve cauliflower raw or cooked. Cauliflower can be boiled, sautéed, steamed, or stir-fried. It is always best tender crunchy and not overcooked.

  • Cauliflower can be prepared like broccoli and the two are interchangeable in recipes.
  • Serve raw cauliflower alone or with a dip. Raw florets can be used as an appetizer and in salads.
  • Serve cooked cauliflower as vegetable side dish or add it to soups, stews, pasta, omelets, soufflés, or quiches.
  • Serve cooked cauliflower alone or mixed with broccoli, green peas, mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots, onions, celery, or combination of these. Cooked cauliflower can be puréed and added to soufflés and soups.
  • Top cooked cauliflower with Mornay or hollandaise sauce or with béchamel sauce and grantinéed.
  • To prepare a rich cauliflower soup, cook the florets until tend in lemon or tarragon flavored chicken broth, purée the florets in blender with a little milk, and stir in cream. Serve this soup hot sprinkled with nutmeg or cold with lemon slices or shredded carrot.
  • Cook cauliflower leaves with other mixed greens.

Flavor partners. Cauliflower has a flavor affinity for anchovy, butter, chervil, chives, cream, curry, garlic, ginger, Gruyére cheese, lemon, mustard seeds, olives, Parmesan cheese, thyme, and turmeric.

Season cauliflower with salt, pepper, onion, garlic, dill, tarragon, nutmeg, mace, paprika, allspice, cinnamon, mustard, oregano, caraway seed, celery seed, curry powder, cumin, coriander, rosemary, or thyme.

You can top raw or cooked cauliflower with plain or flavored butter or margarine, vinaigrette dressing, plain or flavored mayonnaise, cheese sauce, or melted yellow, egg yolk or butter sauces, tomato sauce or white sauce.

Nutrition. Cauliflower contains vitamin C, folic acid, potassium, and iron. A cupful of cauliflower flowerets contains 27 calories.

Cauliflower facts and trivia. Cauliflower originated at the eastern end of the Mediterranean and has been in cultivation since the sixth century B.C. The Moors introduced cauliflower to Spain in the twelfth century. From Spain, cauliflower was introduced into Italy in the late fifteenth century and into France in the mid-sixteenth century.

The name cauliflower comes from the Latin words caulis which means “stalk”and floris which means “flower.”

The botanical name for cauliflower is Brassica oleracea var. botrytis.