It’s fall. Farmers markets are full of cauliflower. Not just old-fashioned white cauliflower. Today, the vegetable comes in shades of purple, yellow, light green.
Mark Twain called cauliflower “a cabbage with a college education.” That has proven true today. As Americans attempt to replace calorie-laden empty carbohydrates, cauliflower has stepped in as a substitute for rice, mashed potatoes, even pizza crust.
A cruciferous vegetable, cauliflower is low in calories and high in fiber. Like other crucifers, it helps to prevent cancer. Compounds in cauliflower prompt the liver to produce enzymes that detoxify cancer-causing chemicals and interfere with the replication of cancer cells. Glucoraphin, a glucosinolate found in cauliflower, can help protect the stomach lining and so helps the digestive system. The orange variety also contains beta carotene, while purple cauliflowers are rich in anthocyanins, phytochemicls found in red cabbage and red wine that have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, heart healthy, anti-aging and anti-carcinogenic properties.
Cauliflower also contains the vitamins A, C, and K plus folate and many B-complex vitamins. It has 18 amino acids, Omega-3 fatty acid, and the minerals potassium, calcium, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium and zinc.
Cauliflower originated in the Middle East; it is popular in the Mediterranean basin from Turkey to Italy. In Italy, it has been important since Roman times, and spread from there to the rest of Europe in the 16th century. Italians still use it in salads and hot dishes. It is used in thick soups in northern and eastern Europe, and it’s a common ingredient of Indian curries.
The fact that it is botanically a flower is reflected in the name: our English name comes from the Italian “cavol fiore” (cabbage flower). It is known as cabbage blossom (chou fleur) in French, and blumenkohl (blooming cabbage) in German. The flowerhead consists of underdeveloped flower buds on a central stalk. The heads average about six inches across and weigh between 1 and 2 pounds; this makes five or six servings.
When shopping for cauliflower, look for firm, tight, heavy heads surrounded by fresh, green leaves. A cauliflower should have a faint cabbage scent, but if the smell is strong, it means it’s old. An overripe cauliflower will also have yellow spots or blotches, while brown spots indicate bruising. Store unwrapped in the vegetable crisper.
Cauliflower is versatile. It can be eaten raw in salads, sauted, roasted, broiled, grilled, steamed or cut into steaks and barbecued. It can be cooked into soup. It can be served on its own as a side, mixed with other veggies in a salad, or cooked and tossed with herbs, vinegars and oils.
Because its flavor is rather neutral, it goes well with a variety of cuisines. For the same reason, it can be made to do culinary tricks, like making soup feel creamy without fat-laden cream, or standing in for starchy, high-calorie potatoes when mashed. Mashed or riced, it can even be made into hummus or a gluten-free pizza crust.
Here are a couple recipes that use cauliflower in different ways.
Mashed Cauliflower Potatoes
2 medium potatoes
1/2 medium head white cauliflower
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 clove garlic, minced
Chives, parsley and butter, for garnish
Peel potatoes and cut up. Clean and cut cauliflower into small pieces.
Boil potatoes and cauliflower in salted water until tender, about 15 minutes depending on how small you cut them. Drain well.
In bowl combine potatoes, cauliflower, garlic, yogurt and Parmesan cheese. Mix with an immersion blender until smooth.
Garnish with minced fresh chives, minced parsley, and pats of butter, if desired.
Serves 4 to 6.
A cauliflower version of the classic Alfredo sauce, replacing the heavy cream with cauliflower
1 small or 1/2 large head cauliflower (about 4 cups cauliflower florets)
2 cups vegetable broth
3 cloves garlic
2 Tablespoons butter or olive oil
About 1/2 cup cream or milk of choice (I used whole milk; you can use 2% or a nut or oat milk, too).
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon turmeric (optional)
1/3 cup shredded sharp cheese like Parmesan or sharp Cheddar
Cherry tomatoes, parsley or chives, for garnish
Simmer cauliflower in the broth in a deep saucepan until very tender and falling apart, about 20 to 25 minutes.
While the cauliflower is cooking, peel and mince the garlic. Heat butter or oil on medium low and cook the garlic until soft and fragrant but not brown, about 5 minutes.
Place a large pot of water with salt on the stove. When it boils, add fettucini or other pasta and cook according to package directions.
When cauliflower is very soft, add garlic to cauliflower and broth (you should have about a cup of broth left). Add salt, pepper, turmeric, and milk. Mix with an immersion blender. Add the cheese and heat until cheese melts.
Serve with pasta in place of Alfredo sauce. Garnish with fresh minced parsley, chives, or halved cherry tomatoes, if desired.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be found at www.yvonafast.com and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at Words Are My World.