In Mark Twain's words "Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education." The name of this elegant member of the cabbage family comes from the Latin "cualis" (stalk) and "floris" (flower). Some varieties may be grown as both fall and spring crops and can produce good heads within 2 months after planting a transplant starling.
Avoid any conditions that may suppress plant growth. Adequate moisture is essential. Good vegetable growth is important for subsequent growth of the cauliflower head. Interference with rapid uniform growth may cause premature development of the head. Such heads are smaller than usual. Cauliflower is the cole crop most sensitive to temperature. Stresses such as cold air or temperatures in the spring, lack of fertility, water stress, insect damage, diseases, and using transplants with poor root growth or root bound before transplanting can result in buttoning (producing heads on very small plants). As the heads enlarge, the may become exposed to the sun and discolor. Avoid this by folding the leaves over the heads or by taping the leaves together to protect the developing head from the sun.
Cauliflower is high in vitamin C and a fair source of iron.
Harvesting from the Winter Garden
Harvest when the heads are of good size, usually 5 to 6 inches in diameter and still compact. As the heads become over mature, they tend to segment and spread apart and the surface becomes fuzzy. Refrigerate raw cauliflower, tightly wrapped, for 3-5 days, and cooked cauliflower for 1-3 days. When you are ready to use it, separate the cauliflower head into florets and wash.
Cauliflowers are excellent steamed, either whole or in florets. Place in a steamer or colander over a pan of boiling water, cover and steam until just tender; immediately remove from the heat. The florets can be fried in olive oil or butter for a few minutes to give a lightly browned finish.
When cooking a cauliflower whole, start testing it after ten minutes, it should feel tender but still have plenty of "bite" left in it. Cauliflower is a popular vegetable accompaniment, either served with just a little butter, olive oil, or tomato or cheese sauce. It is also good fried with onions and garlic, accompanied by a few tomatoes and capers.
Cauliflower is an excellent addition to salads or used for crudités. Either use it raw or blanch it in boiling water for 1 - 2 minutes, then refresh under cold running water. Small cauliflowers and broccoli romanescoes are intended to be coked whole, and can be steamed or boiled, covered with a lid, for 4 - 5 minutes until just tender.
Recipe: Cauliflower Herb Soup
1 lb. cauliflower, washed, trimmed, and cut into florets
4 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 large onion, chopped
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups low-fat (2%) milk
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. hot pepper sauce
1 to 1 1/2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar (see Chef's Note)
2 tsp. fresh rosemary leaves, chopped or, if dried, crushed
2 tsp. thyme, dried or fresh
1/2 cup diced smoked cooked ham, optional*
salt and pepper, to taste, optional*
1 1/2 cups toasted croutons, optional*
1 1/2 Tbsp. salted butter, garnish
1 Tbsp. chopped chives, garnish
Place cauliflower in a large deep saucepan, cover with water, and bring to full boil over MEDIUM heat. Reduce heat and cook, covered, until barely tender. Drain immediately. Add potatoes, onion, chicken broth, milk, ground pepper, and hot pepper sauce and return mixture to simmer. Cook for about 20 to 25 minutes, until all vegetables are fully cooked.
Remove from heat and cool briefly. Using a blender, carefully place 1 ½ cups hot soup mixture into container and blend on LOW at first and then HIGH speed until all is smooth. Pour in another container. Proceed with remaining soup in same manner.
Reheat soup, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, rosemary, thyme and ham, if desired. Bring to simmer and cook for about 15 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste with additional vinegar and optional salt and pepper.
To serve, place ¼ cup (optional) croutons in bottom of soup bowl or large mug. Ladle in hot soup and garnish with 1 teaspoon butter and chopped chives.
*Chef's Note: When seasoning savory foods, it is important to achieve a correct salt-acid basis. Salt is usually perceived at the front of the mouth, acids usually in the back. When a food needs something extra in flavor, usually the first seasoning used should be an acid like lemon or lime juice, vinegars, or other fruit juices. Only then, add small amounts of salt. Stir well after each ingredient is added and then taste. And remember, do not forget the pepper and hot pepper sauces; they add wonderful components of flavor.