Cauliflower is one of those vegetables that folks can’t seem to make up their minds about. It’s a very successful row crop that has been a staple in grocery stores and farmers' markets for years. It’s also a consistent crop, available domestically nearly every day of the year. Yet unlike its plant relative broccoli, cauliflower has in the past been considered something of a special-occasion ingredient and not an "everyday" vegetable. But that’s changing as more and people are rediscovering the wonderful flavor and versatility of this remarkable vegetable.
Cauliflower can grow in a wide range of climate zones and is produced in season all over the U.S. It is a "one and done" row crop, and since each plant produces a single flower farmers must put in successive plantings to insure a consistent supply. Cauliflower comes in many sizes and colors depending on variety and growing conditions. The most common is white but there are green, purple, and even orange varieties ranging from the size of your fist to as big as a basketball.
When selecting cauliflower, always look for firm, heavy cauliflower with no brown scuffs on the curds. Cauliflower will keep for more than a week provided your remove all of the outer leaves (which will decay at a faster rate). I like to "prep" my cauliflower when I bring it home, removing the core and outer leaves and placing it in several containers depending on what plans I have for it. Cauliflower is excellent cooked or raw and has a wide range of uses. You can substitute cauliflower in any dish that calls for potatoes or simply add them to the dish for a lighter, less starchy version. My favorite for the fall is scalloped cauliflower and a mashed potato/cauliflower combination. Cauliflower is also excellent raw, either cut into small florets for salads or thinly sliced to serve instead of chips.
The last thing to note is the fall brings with it cooler nights and shorter days. Cauliflower will grow slower, and like most crucifers, the cool evenings make it sweeter and more flavorful. This is the perfect time of year for preparing cauliflower so anytime is a special occasion — enjoy!
- James Parker, global associate perishables coordinator for Whole Foods Market