The family of cruciferous vegetables seems to be taking turns with its members, thrusting one or two into the spotlight at a time for its 15 minutes of fame. We've had Brussels sprouts every which way and kale found its way onto all our plates. • Now, cauliflower takes the stage. • Yes, I'm talking about the paler, less popular — though that's less true lately — cousin of broccoli. The variety most commonly found is a creamy white color, but more and more you'll find it in shades of purple, orange and bright green. Romanesco, a hybrid of broccoli and cauliflower, is especially striking with its fractal-like clusters and lime green color.
With all these options, let's skip the boil and the steam. We don't live with our parents anymore and neither does cauliflower. This little vegetable is far more worldly than it was during its days as an unassuming side we could feel good about eating.
Pickled. Sauteed. Chopped. Marinated. Shaved. Grated. Fried. Raw. Roasted, whole or in florets. Mashed. Seared. Drenched in Buffalo sauce and served as sumptuously as chicken wings.
Cauliflower is having way more fun, and its adaptability is part of the reason for its prevalence on restaurant menus, food blogs and in home kitchens.
At O.E. Market at Oxford Exchange in Tampa, crisp bits of cauliflower are tucked into a turkey and cranberry goat cheese sandwich, and the roasted cauliflower with walnut bread crumbs, pickled raisins, and brown butter was a standout dish when we visited the Rooster and the Till restaurant in Seminole Heights.
Chef Jessica Wafford at Boca in South Tampa said she didn't care for cauliflower when she was growing up, but now she could eat it every day and is serving it in all kinds of inventive ways. A tandoori-style cauliflower smoked for four hours went over very well with customers, and she said a puree with truffle and haricots verts (French green beans) was wildly successful. Part of the reason she hired her new sous chef, she said, is his cauliflower gratin acumen.
"We're taking things back to how we had them as kids but revamping them and making them exciting," Wafford said. "I like cauliflower because it can take on any flavor and it can be used in any way."
Though its flavor is mild, almost sweet, it's strong enough to take on bold flavors.
Deborah Madison, known for her seasonal and vegetable-focused cooking, lists in her cookbook, Vegetable Literacy, favorable flavor combinations for cauliflower that include mustard, horseradish, lemon, capers, garlic; watercress, leeks; parsley, cumin, coriander, caraway, saffron; and coconut milk and curry spices.
At Pearl in the Grove in Dade City, fresh and in-season cauliflower was recently served with lavender, brown butter and pecans. Chef and owner Curtis Beebe said the popularity of ingredients certainly comes in waves, and cauliflower and other gluten-free alternatives are gaining traction with diners.
And, since it is generally available year-round, a new cauliflower recipe could grace your table every day of the week.
Look for heads of cauliflower that are uniform in color with tight clusters requiring a knife to break apart. Keep cauliflower wrapped in the fridge and try to use in three to five days. Keep it any longer and you may find a few brown spots. Trim off those parts with a knife. Heads of cauliflower vary in size, but those weighing 1 ½ or 2 pounds should work in most recipes requesting one head.
To break cauliflower into florets, start by trimming the green leaves that cradle the bottom of the vegetable. Then cut the head lengthwise into quarters and use a sharp knife to break each section into florets, cutting away from the stalk. If you find a particularly fresh head of cauliflower, try cooking it whole or cut it into thick slabs and serve as "steaks" to show off its shape.
Those following a gluten-free or paleo diet have found an ally in cauliflower with its nutritional value and resourcefulness in the kitchen. There are countless recipes online for cauliflower standing in as pizza crust, mashed potatoes, rice and even tortillas. It's high in fiber, low in calories and is known for its cancer-fighting compounds.
Which crucifer will snag the spotlight next? Well, there's always turnips — or even kohlrabi.
Ileana Morales writes the In Our Kitchen column for the Taste section. It publishes on the first and third Wednesdays of the month. She also blogs at alittlesaffron.com.
Roasted Cauliflower With Brown Butter Bread Crumbs and Pecans
1 head cauliflower (about 1 ½ pounds) cut into bite-sized pieces
½ cup whole pecans
6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed slightly with the side of a knife
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 tablespoon chopped chives or spring onion
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Cut up cauliflower and set aside.
Spread out pecans on a medium-sized rimmed baking sheet and bake until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer to a bowl or cutting board to cool. When cool enough to handle, chop the pecans.
Turn up oven to 425 degrees.
Toss cauliflower in a large bowl with 2 tablespoons olive oil to coat florets. Season with a pinch of salt. Spread out cauliflower on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast until golden brown, about 25 minutes, tossing every 10 minutes or so to make sure all sides are browned. About halfway through, toss garlic cloves in with the cauliflower.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat until it pops, foams, crackles and then quiets down. It will turn brown and fragrant. At this point, add the bread crumbs, turn down the heat and stir until the bread soaks up the butter. Cook a few more minutes until the bread crumbs darken slightly and crisp a bit. Transfer bread crumbs to a bowl or jar.
Place the roasted cauliflower and garlic cloves on a platter. Sprinkle with ¼ cup toasted pecans, about ¼ cup bread crumbs and chives. Finish with a sprinkling of flaky salt and a drizzle of olive oil if you'd like. Serve immediately.
Serves 2 to 4.
Variations: Add 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds and 1 teaspoon ground cumin to the olive oil before coating the cauliflower. Serve with chopped fresh mint and a generous dollop of yogurt. Or, add 1 teaspoon of Herbes de Provence, 1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds, and a few thyme sprigs to the olive oil before tossing. Then, add a handful of almonds during the last 10 minutes of roasting.
Source: Ileana Morales
Cauliflower and Caramelized Onion Gratin
1 to 2 heads cauliflower (2 ½ to 3 pounds), cut into bite-size florets
2 large onions (1 ½ to 2 pounds), thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
5 ounces Gruyere or Comté cheese, coarsely grated
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Cut up cauliflower and set aside.
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a wide saute pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and stir for a couple minutes to coat with oil and soften. Turn down heat to medium and let onions cook, stirring occasionally until volume is reduced and onions are a deep brown. You may need to reduce heat to medium-low if the onions are browning too quickly rather than caramelizing. Stir in garlic at the end. Turn heat down to lowest setting.
Meanwhile, toss cauliflower with 1 tablespoon olive oil and ½ teaspoon kosher salt and spread on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper. It's okay if the cauliflower is slightly crowded. Roast until slightly softened and just starting to brown, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring halfway through.
To make the roux, melt butter on medium heat in a medium saucepan. Add flour and stir until the mixture is smooth and thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. If it clumps, just keep stirring. Pour milk and cream in slowly, stirring as you do, to combine the ingredients without any clumps. The mixture should be thick and smooth. Stir in about half of the cheese so it melts into the sauce.
Spread a ladleful of the white sauce over the bottom of a buttered 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Spread out cauliflower and caramelized onions evenly in the dish. Pour sauce over the vegetables. Toss to coat cauliflower and onions in the sauce. Sprinkle with a pinch of nutmeg and salt. Cover with the rest of the cheese.
Bake until browned and bubbling, 25 to 30 minutes. Let it rest 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Source: Ileana Morales
Whole Roasted Cauliflower
and Whipped Goat Cheese
2 ½ cups dry white wine
⅓ cup olive oil
¼ cup kosher salt
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from about 1 lemon)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon sugar
1 bay leaf
8 cups water
1 head of cauliflower, leaves removed
Flaky salt (such as Maldon)
For the whipped goat cheese:
4 ounces fresh goat cheese
3 ounces cream cheese
3 ounces feta
⅓ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving
Heat oven to 475 degrees. Bring wine, oil, kosher salt, juice, butter, crushed red pepper, sugar, bay leaf and water to a boil in a large pot, such as a Dutch oven. Carefully add cauliflower to the pot and reduce heat to about medium or medium-high. Let cauliflower simmer, turning occasionally, until a knife easily inserts into the center, 15 to 20 minutes.
Use 2 slotted spoons or a wide mesh strainer to remove the cauliflower from the pot and drain well. Place cauliflower with stem on the bottom on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, rotating sheet halfway through, until brown all over, 30 to 40 minutes. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Use a sharp knife to cut into 4 or 6 wedges and serve immediately with whipped goat cheese on the side.
Make the whipped goat cheese: Blend cheeses, heavy cream and 2 tablespoons oil in a food processor until smooth. Season with salt. Transfer whipped goat cheese to a serving bowl and drizzle with oil.
The whipped goat cheese can be made a day ahead. Cover and keep chilled in the fridge.
Source: Domenica in New Orleans via Bon Appetit magazine
1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets (with as little of the stalk as possible)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
Zest of 1 lemon
A handful fresh herbs, such as mint or parsley, roughly chopped
Cut up cauliflower, put in a food processor and pulse in batches until it's chopped into small bits, the size and texture of Israeli couscous. Be careful not to puree. That's not terrible, but not what we're going for here. If you don't have a food processor, you can break down the cauliflower into couscous-size pieces with the coarse side on a box grater or chopping it finely with a knife.
Heat olive oil over medium heat in a wide skillet. Add shallot and saute for 1 minute. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add cauliflower and cook until heated through, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Transfer cauliflower to a large serving bowl. Toss with cumin, lemon zest and herbs. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil if desired. Serve.
Serves about 4.
Variations: Try adding different nuts, dried fruit, herbs and spices of your liking. I often reach for whole or ground cumin and almonds. Feel free to swap in leeks or regular onion for the shallot.
Source: Ileana Morales
1 head cauliflower, cut into pieces
1 cup chicken stock or water
2 to 3 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon butter, softened
Salt and pepper
Place cauliflower and stock in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until cauliflower is very tender, about 10 minutes.
Transfer cauliflower to a blender using a slotted spoon. Add a few tablespoons of the stock and blend until smooth, 15 to 20 seconds. Add sour cream and butter, and blend another 5 to 10 seconds. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot.
Source: Elise Bauer via simplyrecipes.com