Meet vegetables’ surprise utility player
White Corona, Snowball, Candid Charm—such flashy names! And you thought cauliflower was Plain Jane, so pale and lackluster stocked beside those photosynthesized leek and broccoli neighbors. Well, just call it coy. That wan façade is actually undeveloped flower buds that, if freed from those clingy leaves in the field and given some solar spotlight, can glow green, purple, even orange.
Originally descended from wild cabbage, cauliflower closely resembles its kale, collard, and broccoli kin. Actually, the purple variety is broccoli; cook it, and the green truth behind the lavender mask is revealed.
But there’s nothing covert about cauliflower’s talents. Eat it raw, steam it, boil it, roast it, or fry it. At Peekskill’s four-month-old The Cove (5 John Walsh Blvd, 914-739-0337), Chef Daniel Cronin is an ardent fan, showcasing it in a cornucopia of autumn dishes. “I love the slow cooking of this season,” he says. “There’s more of an art to it than just throwing something on a grill. And cauliflower is very versatile; it can present so many textures.” And so he might wrap an entire head of it in foil with some veal stock and roast it to a luscious tenderness, then punch it up with a breadcrumb mantle. He’ll roast it for a soup with potatoes, reserving some florets for a caramelized garnish that masquerades as croutons. But Cronin’s favorite ruse is cauliflower “risotto.” How does he pull that one off? “I shave a head on a box grater and the cauliflower looks like rice.”
Pretty sly. And when mixed with lobster meat on his menu, pretty irresistible. But rice it’s not. Cauliflower, like its cruciferous brethren, is rich in cancer-fighting compounds. The purple variety—broccoli or not—has the same antioxidants found in red wine. So get out to the greenmarket, gather up some heads, peel back those leaves, and let this autumn star strut its stuff.
Cauliflower and Lobster Risotto
Courtesy of Daniel Cronin, The Cove
(8 to 10 appetizer portions, 5 to 6 entrée portions)
1 medium head cauliflower
2 Tbsp olive oil (not extra virgin) or canola oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp white pepper
½ cup dry white wine
1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
2 cups firmly cooked lobster meat, chopped
1 cup tarragon, chopped
Salt and white pepper, to taste
2 Granny Smith apples, unpeeled, in small dice
½ tsp mascarpone cheese per appetizer portion, or 1 tsp per entrée
Remove leaves from cauliflower head and grate head in food processor or on large holes of a box grater. Heat oil over medium heat, add onion, and sauté until translucent. Add garlic, salt and pepper, and cook for 1 minute. Add cauliflower and wine, cook 2 minutes, until cauliflower is slightly firm. Add stock and cook 2 to 3 minutes more. Fold in lobster meat, stir in tarragon, and remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish each portion with diced apple and a dollop of mascarpone.