Mark Twain called it "cabbage with a college education" and I won't argue. It's the most elegant cabbage, a vegetable grown only for emperors and kings until the 20th century when farming made it available to all.
Snowy, succulent, a little bit sweet, a little bit nutty - that's the cauliflower.
The name was derived from the Latin word meaning cabbage flower, cauliflower has been cultivated for more than 2000 years. Native to the Mediterranean area it has been part of the European diet for about 500 years.
There are more and more varieties and hybrid mixes coming onto the market so keep an eye out for purple, lime green (brocco flower) and even the miniature cauliflower.
Known as a great source of vitamin C, cauliflower also supplies vitamin K and foliate along with being a reliable source of fibre.
It does also contain small amounts of potassium and calcium. If you aren't fortunate enough to have them in the garden first check the colour and the freshness of the leaves close to the head when buying cauliflower. That is a good way of picking the best.
Look for white heads that are clean and compact with curds that are firm and no parts breaking away. They are in very good condition in shops at the moment.
Take a little care when you store your cauliflower because they are ethylene sensitive so should not be kept with ethylene rich vegetables or fruit such as apples, tomatoes, avocado and bananas.
Exposure will hasten the ripening and deterioration process of the cauliflower.
The safest way of storing cauliflower at home is in plastic bags in the fridge. The bags will prevent the fridge from sucking out its moisture.
A great way of making your cauliflower last is to cut it into florets and put them into a zip-lock bag or sealed plastic containers with a damp paper towel on the base. Like much of the brassicas, cauliflower is best cooked for a short time until tender but still slightly crisp. Avoid overcooking as the taste will be inferior and the heads will disintegrate. Overcooking also gives off a pungent odour which can put people off.
While ideal as a vegetable cauliflower is also very useful in other preparations.
Cauliflower and blue cheese soup
Lightly sauted in olive oil, turmeric, cumin and coriander seeds is another
Eaten raw with your favourite dip
Tossed with herbs and garlic then roasted
Crumbed and deep fried
Excellent addition to a curry
Essential in the making of a good chow chow pickle
Cauliflower and cheese fritters
A simple cauliflower soup
For 4-6 servings
1 large cauliflower, steamed, poached or blanched until still a little crisp
2 Tbsp butter
1 cup soft, fresh white breadcrumbs
2 hardboiled eggs peeled and grated
1 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
Transfer the cauliflower to a vegetable dish and keep warm.
Melt the butter in a heavy based pan over a moderate heat, adding the crumbs and stir-fry for 4-5 minutes until lightly browned. Crumbs brown slowly at first then quickly towards the end so just keep a careful eye on them.
Remove from the heat, mix in the eggs and parsley and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Sprinkle the crumb mixture over the cauliflower and serve.
Note: Add a little lemon zest or lemon juice to blanching/ poaching water to assist in keeping the cauliflower white while cooking.
* Graham Hawkes operates Paddington Arms in Invercargill.
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