AROUND THE TABLE: HOME GROWN

Hail cauliflower, your holiday table’s glamorous guest


Published: Tuesday, November 26, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 22, 2013 at 1:31 p.m.

We’re all familiar with snowy WHITE cauliflower, but have you seen the extra-sharp orange Cheddar variety? It has the same nutty flavor, but looks like a cheese sauce was poured over it! Grafitti and Purple Cape are two of the powerful purple varieties that contain the antioxidant anthocyanin. And then there is that special neon green seen in both regular mounded curd heads, as well as the other-worldly pointed cones of Romanescu cauliflower.

Despite the color differences, they are all relatives of broccoli, cabbage and brussels sprouts, part of the Brassica family of veggies loaded with vitamin C, fiber and folate. While it can be sweet when served fresh and raw, cauliflower is known for its mild nutty flavor. If cooked too long, cauliflower releases sulphur compounds similar to cabbage, so serve it raw or cook it lightly, until just crisp-tender.

Served raw straight from your garden or the farmers market, it is perfect to dip or slice thinly for sandwiches. It travels well, making it ideal for children’s lunch boxes and adult brown bags. Oven-baking brings out cauliflower’s sweetness, and Roasted Cauliflower Florets, inspired by my Aunt Lil’s version, uses parmigiano reggiano to bring out the nutty flavors, as well. Leftover roasted cauliflower is also good in sandwiches or salads.

Steamed or boiled, it makes a filling base for soups, such as Creamy Cauliflower Soup. When pureed, the texture becomes silky smooth and the flavor disappears in the presence of seasonings, making it the perfect “sneaky” vegetable to serve picky children. It also has achieved a reputation as a tasty and quick low-carb substitute for mashed potatoes. Try your favorite gravy on Cauliflower Mash — it’s a great way to lighten up a holiday meal.

No festive event would be complete without Frosted Cauliflower. Served as a centerpiece or a side dish, it offers a tasty alternative for your vegetarian guests. It’s easy to make, and will hold in a warm oven while waiting to serve, making it ideal for a holiday meal.

Roasted Cauliflower Florets

Serves 4-8

1 large head cauliflower

2 eggs

2 cups dry bread crumbs or panko

1 cup parmigiano reggiano, finely grated

1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil a cookie sheet.

Break cauliflower into large florets.

In a bowl large enough for dipping, lightly beat the eggs.

Combine the bread crumbs and cheese in a shallow pan.

Dip each cauliflower floret in egg wash and then roll in bread crumb mixture until coated.

Place on prepared cookie sheet. Drizzle or spray with olive oil.

Bake 20-30 minutes until the cauliflower is fork-tender and the breading is golden and crispy.

Place on warmed platter. Top with chopped parsley. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Creamy Cauliflower Soup

Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 head cauliflower, broken into florets

1 cup chopped carrots

1 leek, sliced OR 1/2 sweet onion, diced

4 cups water

1/2 cup cashew butter

Sauté cauliflower in olive oil for 5 minutes.

Stir in carrots and leek. Cook an additional 5 minutes.

Pour in water and stir in half the cashew butter.

Bring to a boil, stir well, reduce heat, cover and cook until veggies are tender.

Use a potato masher to coarsely mash veggies.

Stir in remaining cashew butter and a dash of salt if desired. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.

Serve hot. Cover and refrigerate leftovers.

Cauliflower Mash

1 head cauliflower, broken into large florets

1/2 cup milk, warmed

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

OPTIONAL MIX-INS

4 ounces shredded cheese

1/4 cup chopped chives, scallions or garlic chives

2 tablespoons roasted garlic

Steam cauliflower in a steamer basket or in a half-inch of water in a covered pot. When it is cooked enough, a fork will easily pierce the floret.

Mash hot cauliflower with milk to desired smoothness. Mix in butter, salt and pepper.

If using any mix-ins, stir into hot mashed cauliflower and serve immediately.

PRESENTATION

Serve as you would mashed potatoes. A little gravy is perfect, or try as the topping on shepherd’s pie.

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