Cauliflower, a popular vegetable served at Thanksgiving, is always a must on the Napolitano table this time of year. Known as the queen of garden vegetables, cauliflower is a densely packed head of tiny, unopened flower buds that form clusters called florets.
Straight off the farm, a head of cauliflower is enclosed by large green edible leaves. In the field, these leaves are bundled around the head to keep it white; left exposed to the sun, the head will turn yellow. When you see cauliflower with the leaves on, it’s been grown locally. What you see in the store, however, is 90 percent of the time cello-pack cauliflower, usually shipped from California.
Cauliflower is part of the Brassica oleracea family, which includes kale, collard greens and Brussels sprouts. In addition to traditional white varieties, cauliflower is also available in green, purple and orange. Although these look different, they taste roughly the same—mild, sweet and nutty. The orange and purple varieties are higher in antioxidants than the white.
Interestingly, orange cauliflower came about as a genetic mutation that allows it to hold more beta carotene than its white counterpart; it also contains about 25 percent more vitamin A than white. Green cauliflower, also known as broccoflower, is actually a hybrid of broccoli and cauliflower; it contains more beta carotene than white cauliflower, but less than broccoli.
Low in calories (just 25 per cup), cauliflower is high in vitamins C, K and B6. It’s also a good source of folate, which enhances cell function in the body. It’s high in choline, which helps combat liver and heart disease, and in fiber, which promotes digestive health and feelings of fullness (making it a great ingredient for weight loss!).
MORE FUN FACTS ABOUT CAULIFLOWER
- Cauliflower is actually a flower that hasn’t fully developed yet.
- Although cauliflower is grown in places such as Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Texas and Washington, California produces more cauliflower than any other state—especially in the Salinas Valley, often called the “salad bowl of the world.”
- China is the world’s leading producer of cauliflower.
- Cauliflower is known as a cruciferous vegetable because its flowers have four petals and resemble a Greek cross.
- Cauliflower leaves are edible but have a stronger taste than the florets.
SELECTION & STORAGE
Look for a good-sized head that’s hard and heavy with a touch of dew on it. The florets should be compact and tightly packed. If florets have started spreading apart and the head looks very light and granular, the cauliflower has begun ricing, which indicates that it experienced changes in growing conditions. Ricing doesn’t mean the cauliflower is spoiled, but it means it won’t quite have the flavor or crispness of a firm, compact head. Riced cauliflower is a little softer and should be cooked for a shorter period.
Cauliflower must be refrigerated. Wrap it in plastic and store it in the crisper, where it will keep for several days.
Cauliflower has recently enjoyed a surge in popularity. It’s incorporated into everything from salty snacks to pizza crusts, and served as an alternative to dishes like mashed potatoes. For best results, cook/steam whole heads in just an inch or two of water until fork-tender—no more than 10 minutes. (Or, if broken into individual florets, the cauliflower will cook a bit faster.) Cauliflower can be eaten raw, steamed, braised or breaded and fried. It can be curried, served in a cream or cheese sauce, enjoyed raw on a platter of crudités, added to other vegetables in a salad, or served with dips. It’s also terrific pickled.
One of my favorite ways to enjoy the queen of garden vegetables is in a savory cream of cauliflower soup. My wife Bette’s version is warm, hearty and nutritious, an antidote to the cool weather approaching. Enjoy her recipe—and from the Napolitano family to yours, have a very happy Thanksgiving!
Bette’s Easy Cream of Cauliflower Soup
(Yields 6–8 servings)
- 1/2 stick butter
- 1/2 cup onions, chopped
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1 large can chicken broth
- 1 10¾-ounce can cheddar cheese soup
- 1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 head cauliflower, trimmed and chopped
- Shredded cheddar cheese (optional)
In a large soup pot, melt butter over moderate heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent. Sprinkle in flour and stir until mixture has thickened. Add chicken broth, cheese soup, cream, salt, pepper and cauliflower; gently stir together. Cover and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Turn heat to low and simmer for an additional 15 minutes. Serve and sprinkle cheddar on top if desired. Enjoy!
About “Produce Pete” Napolitano
With over 65 years of experience in the produce industry, New Jersey’s own “Produce Pete” Napolitano is a renowned fruit and vegetable expert, author and television personality who’s appeared on a highly popular segment on NBC 4 New York’s Weekend Today in New York, broadcast every Saturday morning for over 27 years. For more information, visit Pete’s website.
About Susan Bloom
A contributor to New Jersey Monthly and a variety of other well-known local and national publications, Susan Bloom is an award-winning, New Jersey–based freelance writer who covers topics ranging from health and lifestyle to business, food and more. She’s collaborated with “Produce Pete” on a broad range of articles for more than a decade.