It’s shocking the things one can do with vegetables these days. All these “new” things were always possible, of course. Maybe someone even thought of them somewhere, but not in the minds of the cooks I came across. Perhaps earlier centuries and cultures had their Alice Waters. Certainly, there have been perpetual cycles, successions and popular dynasties on which the rise and fall of empires, governments, politicians and rulers depend. So why should the vegetal world be immune? More importantly, why care? Let’s just wallow in the glory of it.
This brainy looking vegetable is thought to be a descendent of the wild cabbage with its roots in ancient Asia Minor. Having gone through many transformations, it was eventually cultivated by both the Turks and the pre-Roman inhabitants of the Italian peninsula as early as 600 BC. There cauliflower led a quiet life for 16 centuries until an enterprising Genoese merchant, perhaps bored with pesto, brought it to France.
During the time of Louis XIV, cauliflower had become the celebrity food of the aristocracy. Louis XV’s mistress, Madame du Barry was a known devotee. Some enterprising, perhaps favor-currying, chef served her the white-headed vegetable under a velvety Mornay sauce and called it Cauliflower a la du Barry. Not with quite the same cachet, its cultivation spread across Europe and to the American colonies. Despite Mark Twain’s quip that, “Cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education”; or perhaps because the French Revolution eliminated too many of cauliflower’s aristocratic patrons, the cauliflower fell into culinary obscurity.
It will surprise few to learn that the Northern Europeans maintained the heirloom varieties. Nor is there likely to be surprise that it was the Italians who developed more exotic varieties including the green Romanesco (above). Likewise, it was the soil of the Italian peninsula that gave birth to other elegant varieties in brilliant shades of red, brown, orange and purple.
In keeping with the new kitchen creativity, we offering Cauliflower Popcorn as this week’s recipe. But don’t stop there. Take a look at the web site and see the many Cauliflower recipes previously published here. You will find things such as Roasted Parmesan Cauliflower, Saffron Cauliflower Pasta with Sultanas and Pine Nuts and Bacon-scented Cauliflower Soup.