Cauliflower comes in white, green, orange, and purple varieties. Cauliflower is extremely hard to grow, and special attention needs to be paid to the temperature, amount of sunlight, and soil conditions. Romanesco, a type of cauliflower, has a striking appearance because it forms the natural approximation of a fractal. Romanesco and cauliflower are all part of the cabbage family and require similar growing conditions to do well. Orange cauliflower contains higher levels of vitamin A. Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C, a good source of many B vitamins and vitamin K. Romanesco, similarly, is an excellent source of vitamins C and K, as well as dietary fiber.
Buying & Storing
When shopping for cauliflower or romanesco, look for heads that feel firm with tightly packed florets that are not browning. Try to avoid cauliflower or romanesco that is yellowed as that means it is overly mature. Cauliflower and Romanesco heads are often “blanched” – a term that means something different when growing then it does when cooking! “Blanched” cauliflower or romanesco heads are protected from the sun to create the creamy light color and lighter, sweeter flavor that we associate with a high quality head of either. Traditionally, “blanching” is done by tying the leaves in a bunch over the cauliflower or romanesco head when the head is small. By “blanching” during the driest part of a dry day, farmers can use the large outer leaves to not only protect heads from the sun but also create a drier environment around the heads, protecting them from fungal damage.
Store cauliflower and romanesco unwashed in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. Cauliflower and romanesco should remain fresh for 1 week, while still being usable for up to 2 weeks. As with most vegetables, however, the longer the cauliflower and romanesco are stored, the greater the depletion of nutritional value. Overall, all three should be eaten as soon as possible, as they will begin to produce strong odors and have an increasingly bitter taste the longer they are stored.
Preparation – Dunk the entire head repeatedly into a sink or bowl filled with cold, salted water to remove any hidden pests. Remove any blemished areas using a small knife. Remove the leaves from the cauliflower or romanesco — they are edible, but not typically eaten. Snap or cut the florets off of the large center stalk and then cut the larger florets into halves or quarters so they are similar in size.
Raw – cut into florets and serve cauliflower, or romanesco with hummus or other dips, toss with pasta, sprinkle on pizza, or add to egg dishes, stir-fries, or salads.
Steam – place florets in the steamer basket of a saucepan or pot with about an inch of boiling water in the bottom. Cover the pot and cook on your stove over high heat for 5-10 minutes. If steaming an entire head of cauliflower, make sure the stem is towards the bottom of the pot and steam for up to 15 minutes, or until barely tender. It can be easily overcooked (which you don’t want to do) as it will release a strong odor and be too mushy.
Microwave – spread 2 cups of florets in a 1-quart baking dish, add 1-2 tablespoons lightly salted water, and cover. For cauliflower, cook on high for 3-5 minutes, stirring after 2 minutes, and then let stand, covered, for 2 minutes.
Roast – cut into florets and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread the florets out on a rimmed baking sheet, and roast at 450°F for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned and tender.
Mash – (Cauliflower): cut into florets and place in simmering stock for about 10 minutes. Add heavy cream or milk and butter and mash with a potato masher or puree in a food processor.
Puree – after cooking cauliflower, place it in a blender or food processor and blend up with stock or butter and cream. Use the puree for a creamy soup base, or use cauliflower puree as a soup thickener. The puree can be frozen for later use.