Day or night. It is such an odd looking plant, one that has always reminded me of the human brain in shape. Cauliflower must be the chicken of the vegetable world. It is open to and enhanced by many companion flavors: cheeses, bacon, garlic and herbs. It may qualify as a veritable botanical Will Rogers.
Our faithful 1st C Pliny wrote about cauliflower’s pleasant, warming taste. Two botantists, 12th and 13th C Arabs became convinced that the white-headed globe originated in Cyprus, though they failed to specify their rationale. Linguists agree that the Old French word for cauliflower is chou de Chypre, or Cyprus cabbage. In fact, the cauliflower is a member in good standing of the cabbage family. The British dubbed it the cabbage flower when they colonized Cyprus.
While they had a presence in Cyprus and had an abundance of the flowerful head, the British developed a dish called Cauliflower Cheese. There were, naturally, various forms, the simplest consisting of caufliflower florets roasted in milk and cheddar cheese. Different Anglo cooks adapted it with Béchamel sauce and an occasional pinch of nutmeg. But it remained a mild dish in the northern climes.
It will probably surprise absolutely no one to learn that the Northern Europeans maintained the heirloom varieties. Nor is there likely to be shock at the knowledge that the Italians developed more exotic varieties including the green Romanesco (above), the red, brown, orange and the purple (below) cultivars.
This week we’ve turned to southern Europe and have chosen to adapt their excellent take on Cauliflower Cheese. Though retaining the vegetable’s status as tender morsels, in the hands of Italian cooks, the dish has evolved as having a tad more backbone. Try it and see what you think.