I hated cauliflower as a kid. Just a boring, bland waste of space on a veggie tray. Flavorless, albino broccoli.
Like many food groups that I disliked growing up, I have discovered that, if I revisit them, there is almost always at least one preparation that I’ve found delicious. Lately, this has inspired me to re-evaluate foods I once thought of as dull. I have been pleasantly surprised that cauliflower has been among those successful experiments, and am now a little bit obsessed.
It started with cauliflower’s charismatic, Fibonacci-shaped, chartreuse cousin, Romanesco. Being the color and design nerd that I am, I almost didn’t care what it was going to taste like when I made an impulse purchase at the Farmers Market. It was intriguing to separate the florets, and tasted a bit like cauliflower, but slightly different somehow. Curious, I visited The Google to learn how exactly the two are related. They belong to the cabbage family, along with broccoli, kale, collards, brussels sprouts and kohlrabi. A curious group, all of which I love. Except for that monotonous white cauliflower. I decided cauliflower deserved another chance.
Cauliflower is a mass of undeveloped flower stalks. That’s why they call them “Florets”, right? Caulis means “stem” or “stalk” in Latin. Cauliflower contains a high amount of vitamins C, K, and B-6, folate, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. You get a lot of bang for your nutritional buck with this stalk o’ flowers. Cauliflower and its kin were all derived from colewort, an ancient, loose-leafed wild cabbage that still grows wild in coastal Europe. Colewort buds became Brussels sprouts, its flowers became broccoli and cauliflower, its leaves became kale and collard greens, its stem was transformed into kohlrabi and its root turned into the turnip.
Fun fact: cauliflower is white because farmers cover the florets with their own leaves to protect them from the sun, which causes it to turn yellow. Huh. And did you know that there are other colors of cauliflower? Since cauliflower is in the cabbage family, purple cauliflower is caused by a shared antioxidant group called anthocyanins, also found in red cabbage.
It turns out cauliflower can do some pretty neat tricks. One of the first things I tried was a cauliflower-based Alfredo sauce. I was never much for heavy Alfredo sauces (which rarely include vegetables, and often seems more of an afterthought when they do), so it seemed worth trying a lighter, cruciferous vegetable-infused version.
Success! I kind of want to put this sauce on everything. It’s smooth, garlicky and adaptable to a variety of serving applications. I paired it with pasta, but would be interested to try using it as a pizza sauce as well.
Roasting vegetables is always a good idea in my book, and I realized I had never tried roasting cauliflower. Into the oven it goes! What comes out is slightly caramelized and crispy florets that have a sort of nutty taste. I started seeing a lot of recipes for roasting a whole head, so I chose Michael Ruhlman’s to begin with. This one is basted in brown butter, because you wouldn’t want your vegetables to be *too* healthy. What a presentation! The outside was lovely and crispy, the inside like butter. Maybe it *is* butter with all of that basting? Paired with a gremolata and a salad, this makes a great meal. I had seconds.
One good thing about cauliflower’s mild taste is that it can easily be influenced. I’ve always liked the idea of buffalo wings, but have never been a fan of the wings themselves. They require an awful lot of work to get in and around the bones, and there’s lots left over. Hooray for the internet – buffalo cauliflower exists. And it is delicious. And you can just pop them in your mouth, no bones about it.
Roast a head’s worth of cauliflower florets for 20 minutes at 400 degrees.
Remove from oven and toss with a little less than a cup of buffalo sauce.
Return the florets to the oven and roast 5-7 minutes more.
Serve with blue cheese dressing and crudités.
We substituted tapioca flour for cornstarch and added a little ancho chile powder to the mix.
Pro tip: cauliflower florets are THIRSTY. They absorb far more sauce than you’d think.
I’ve also enjoyed a fried cauliflower sandwich on homemade ciabatta and adore a good cauliflower pickle.
Going overboard? Maybe. But I’m not the only one. Cauliflower has caught the attention of many chefs and folks looking for entertaining culinary work-arounds. If you’re anxious to head to the market and get your cauliflower fix, you are in luck. While available year-round, the best season for cauliflower is winter. Which is now.
Cauliflower has won my affection in its ability to be a vegetable chameleon, and has earned a spot in my regular rotation.
Well done, cauliflower. You can stay.