Mark Twain once described cauliflower as "cabbage with a college education." A member of the cabbage family, cauliflower is akin to broccoli, which it closely resembles.
Cauliflower has a mild flavor that marries nicely with cheese and with vegetables such as green beans and carrots. It can be cooked and then pureed for soup. The florets are also good raw or blanched in salads or served on a crudité platter.
Cauliflower is in season during the fall, although it is available throughout most of the winter. Look for firm, tight heads without bruises or brown spots, with evenly colored ivory or cream florets. A few varieties of cauliflower have a green or purple tinge, which is natural and does not change the taste. If any leaves remain, they should be green and fresh looking. Avoid cauliflower with loosely packed or spreading florets. It is acceptable if a few green shoots are showing among the florets, or if the florets look a little grainy or bristly.
Store cauliflower in a loose, perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. If you do not use the entire head, plan to eat the remaining florets within a day. Or, you may freeze them, first blanching them in lightly salted water for about 3 minutes, draining, and then putting them in rigid containers or plastic bags in the freezer for up to 1 year. Once cooked, cauliflower keeps for only 1 or 2 days in the refrigerator.
Remove any leaves from the stem end of the head, separate the head into florets and rinse under cold running water. Trim off any brown spots. Cauliflower can be cooked whole as well and the florets separated after cooking. Steam or boil cauliflower until tender and toss with a little butter or lemon juice, or combine with other vegetables, before serving.
Adding a few drops of lemon juice or a little milk to the cooking water helps cauliflower retain its creamy white color. As with cabbage, there is no way to prevent an odor from emanating from the cauliflower during cooking. Cut cauliflower into small florets, cook them quickly, and turn on exhaust fans and open windows to disperse any odor.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion: The A to Z Guide to Everyday Cooking, Equipment and Ingredients (Time-Life Books, 2000)
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