Mark Twain once famously — and glowingly — described cauliflower as “nothing but cabbage with a college education.”
Yes, cauliflower is a card-carrying member of the Brassica (or, cabbage) family. Although this sculptural autumn vegetable doesn’t give itself away, scent-wise, when in its raw state (let’s face it, it’s something of a wallflower on the crudité platter), it’s a different story when it’s boiled too long. That’s when sulfur, locked within, begins to perfume the kitchen, and any adjacent room.
Which is why cooks should consider roasting. Or steaming. Both will preserve — even accentuate — the vegetable’s gently nutty sweetness, while minimizing any olfactory unpleasantness.
Like broccoli — a close relative — Vitamin C-rich cauliflower is composed of thick stems that end in heads of firm, tightly packet florets of immature flowers. Creamy white is the most common color, by a long shot, but cauliflower can also be found in Cheddar-tinted orange, pale green and deep purple. The color does not impact the flavor.
Here’s a general roasting rule: Arrange freshly trimmed cauliflower florets in a single layer in a roasting pan, drizzle lightly with olive oil and roast in a 350-degree oven, turning the cauliflower often, until it’s golden brown, about 30 minutes. For steaming, place florets in a steaming basket over gently boiling water, cover and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes.
In terms of flavor, elegant cauliflower is one of the great chameleons of the farmers market stand. Think tofu, only crunchier. Its mild, unassuming nature allows it to easily absorb and reflect the flavor qualities of countless other ingredients. An Indian biryani, perfumed with cumin and cinnamon? A creamy Nordic soup, with hints of juniper? An everyday warm salad, brightly brimming with citrus and feta? Absolutely.
Don’t buy cauliflower if the florets are loosely arranged or if mottled with brown spots. If any leaves remain, they should be bright green and fresh.
Store cauliflower stem-side down in a loose, perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to five days.
Cauliflower freezes well, and it’s an easy process. Separate the florets, then blanch them in lightly salted water for 3 minutes. Drain and cool, then transfer them in tightly sealed plastic containers or freezer bags for up to six months. Come winter, you’ll be glad you made the effort.
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