It is not a mystery to me why cauliflower is almost always the last vegetable left on a crudites platter. It’s a lot of chewing on something that has a questionably satisfying texture and very little flavor gratification. No wonder ranch dressing or hummus become our best friends in those occassions. It’s a lifeline because we’re hungry and there’s probably nothing else left to eat. Because let’s face it…almost anything short of an old slipper would be more titillating to our palate.
Am I being mean to this bunch of billowy cloud-like florets? Sigh…I think I am.
I guess what I am trying to say, albeit in an ornery way, is that cauliflower is best cooked. Roasted, sauteed, baked, fried or steamed. That’s the only time I get really excited about eating it, anyway. In addition to being easier to digest for the body (yes, dad, I was listening to you all those times you mentioned that the body works harder to digest raw vegetables than, say, meat! I’ve since read it in other less pedantic, more scientifically-grounded sources and, as it turns out, I have yet more proof of how smart my dad is.)
But advantages to our digestive system aside, what really captures my imagination is how creamy our friend is. Mashed cauliflower has been a replacement for mashed potatoes in the macrobiotic, anti-night shade vegetable community for years and years and I can see why. It really does have the creamiest consistency. It also has a subtle, cabbage-like flavor that is a big hit with people who love…well, cabbage. I do, for instance!
Unlike a lot of other vegetables, you want to buy cauliflower when they are nice and large because they have the most flavor. (This is not the case with zucchini or eggplant, for example. You want them to be smaller in size to avoid having to deal with excess seeds, which throw off the texture.)
When at the market, choose cauliflower that have outer leaves that are a nice, green color and that look crisp. Cauliflower leaves are like a window to its soul…and what you see outside is usually what you get inside. That must be why kids look so darn cute all the time! To avoid having them turn brown, store them, whole, in a paper bag in the fridge. They’ll keep for about a week or so, which is great since I’m trying to plan my week of meals ahead of time to avoid having to go to the market every day for a few items.
I know…it’s soooo European (said with great affectation) to do this. But the unfortunate truth is that most Europeans aren’t even Europeans anymore. Most families now have both parents working and things are crazy busy in their lives just like they are here in the good ‘ol US of A. Going to the market once or twice a week is a smarter way to go. I have friends who do it and I admire their administrative and planning prowess so much. It does not come naturally to me, though. But I’m tryin’…
Over the summer, I’ll be covering some of my favorite ways to indulge using them. There’s this one pasta dish I grew up with that I will feature in the next few weeks…cauliflower, sauteed bread cubes, parsley and anchovies. Oh my goodness! YUM…..so much flavor! Can’t wait to share that recipe with you!
By the way, I slightly adapted this recipe from Damn Delish. My friend Christine posted the recipe on Facebook and the moment I saw the picture, it looked so scrumptious that I just had to have it! Of course, it didn’t hurt that it had been raining and chilly for a substantial part of the last two weeks….which made me crave soups, soups and more soups!
I hope you enjoy this as much as my girls did!
making cauliflower & bacon chowder
Heat a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Grate 1 onion. Click here for a fast way to grate our tear-soliciting friends that doesn’t even give your eyes a chance to water.
See the liquid on the bottom of the bowl? I squeeze it from the grated onions and reserve the liquid. I add it in later when I add the stock and milk for extra flava’. Add the grated onion, 4 chopped celery stalks, 2 minced cloves of garlic and 1/2 a bag of chopped baby carrots or 4 peeled and diced carrots to the pot along with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3-4 minutes. Then lower the heat to low and continue to cook covered, stirring occasionally, for another 25 minutes. Cooking the vegetables on low heat for what may seem a looooong period of time is what brings out the natural sweetness of all of the vegetables, adding more complexity of flavor and savoriness to the soup.
Add 1/4 cup pf all-purpose flour.
Mix thoroughly. Allow the flour to cook with the vegetables until it begins to look golden in color, 2-3 minute. Doing this allows the flour to cook, which means you won’t taste it when eating the soup. Gradually add in 2 cups of chicken broth, the reserved onion juice, and 2 cups of milk (I used whole cause that’s what I have in the house). Cook, stirring constantly until the soup starts to lightly thicken, about 3 minutes.
Add 1 roughly chopped head of cauliflower and 2 bay leaves.
Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a low simmer until the cauliflower is tender, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If the chowder is too thick, add more milk as needed until desired consistency is reached. That’s never happened to me with this soup, but you never know…
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add 4 chopped slices of bacon and cook until brown and crispy, about 6-8 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate so that the bacon bits can lose any excess fat. Alternatively, place 4 slices of bacon on a paper towel-lined plate and microwave on high for 4 minutes or so, or until the bacon looks done and crispy. Then break the bacon slices into pieces with your hands.
Serve immediately, garnished with bacon and 2 tablespoons of fresh parsley leaves (chopped if desired). Makes 6 servings.