Can you guess what kind of vegetable this is?
If you guessed “cauliflower,” you have a very good eye. Or you read the title of the post. Or you also have a garden, and you also didn’t get around to picking your cauliflowers while they were still compact and spherical.
To keep the florets white, growers normally tie the leaves together over the heads, or grow varieties bred to lack natural pigment. But given plenty of sunlight, even this “Snow Crown” variety develops faint orange and purple hues, thanks to the natural antioxidant pigments beta-carotene and anthocyanin. Once the weather cools enough for a fall planting, I’ll try to find some of the bright orange, purple, or green varieties.
Eat the stems
Left to their own devices, cauliflowers soon cease to resemble the compact, spherical forms we see in the supermarket. Instead of forming “little trees,” the branches become long and undulating, with tiny florets scattered up and down their lengths.
If I see one more website refer to the florets of cauliflower or broccoli as “the edible portion,” I’m going to start leaving rude comments. The stems are delicious. Leave them long, chop them up, boil them or roast them: anything you like. If you want thick stems to cook as quickly as the florets, just slice them into thinner segments (lengthwise or crosswise, it doesn’t matter).
Of cabbages and cauliflower
And the leaves? Yep, you can eat them, too. Cauliflower, cabbages, and kale are all cultivars of Brassica oleracea. You can eat the leaves raw or cooked, any way you would eat kale or cabbage. If the leaves are big and tough but you want to go raw, try shredding them, dressing them with oil and acid, massaging them for a minute or two, then letting them rest for a half-hour.
For an easy way to prep the leaves, wash them and rip out any tough stems. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, and toss in the leaves. If you have a lot, do them in batches. (A cooking skimmer is the easiest way to scoop each batch out of the water so you can toss the next batch in.) Most leaves don’t take long to cook — just fish out a piece every minute or two and taste it. Take them out when they have the texture you like, whether that’s barely al dente or perfectly tender. Beyond making them easier to chew, blanching mellows the flavor and brings out the natural sweetness. Once the leaves are as tender as you like, drain them, squeeze out the excess water, and chop them. (Some people shock them in ice water to “preserve the color” — I don’t bother.)
You can use them right away, but I like to prep several bunches of greens at once, then refrigerate them, perfectly prepped to use later in the week. Because they’re already tender and chopped, it only takes a minute to heat them in a pan with some garlic and butter, or add them to a curry with pre-cooked chickpeas, or stir them into a pasta sauce, or sprinkle them onto a pizza, or toss them with anchovies, capers, and a splash of wine….
Share your cauliflower recipes
I still have three cauliflowers in the garden, assuming they haven’t been eaten by deer or slugs overnight. Please share your favorite recipe in the comments, and I’ll make the ones that look the tastiest and/or most interesting. And yes, that is a challenge.