It is not clear exactly when cauliflower appeared, and whether it was ever wild. However, it is known that it was already being grown in Egypt several centuries before our era, and that it was enjoyed by the Ancient Greeks and Romans.
It was later forgotten, although a little was still grown in Italy (where it was known as cavalo-fiore) and Cyprus. It was from there that La Quintinie, gardener to Louis XIV, brought back seeds, to the delight of his august master. The king loved them with a sauce made with butter, vinegar, nutmeg, salt, and slices of lemon, but his chef François Massialot also prepared it with mutton jus after cooking in water with cloves (1691 Le Cuisinier Royal et Bourgeoise).
Cauliflower was introduced to the Royal kitchen gardens at Versailles. Was it his son Louis XV or the last of his mistresses, Madame du Barry, who was especially fond of this vegetable? Whatever the case, cauliflower was often a feature of their meals, so much so that it was raised to noble status. This is the origin of the term Du Barry or à la Dubarry in French cuisine for dishes where it is the main ingredient.
The name romanesco comes from the region of Rome where it was grown. It was long mistaken for its cousin broccoli: it was once called "broccoflower". It is uncommon, only grown in Italy and the south of France until the end of the 20th century when it was introduced to Brittany and other areas.
The leading cauliflower-producing countries are China, India, France, Italy, and the United States. Most of the production in France comes from Brittany.
Whether choosing cauliflower or romanesco, the heads should be highly compacted with tightly packed florets. There should be no blemishes.
The remaining leaves (always cut, but left reasonably long) should not be withered, but fresh, with plenty of moisture and little oxidation along the cut.
Cauliflower and romanesco are sold fresh by the piece.
The florets are also sold frozen (blanched or raw) and canned.
Cauliflower or romanesco florets are separated and washed before use.
Small and very fresh, they are ideal raw (with an anchoïade or other cold sauce) or in a salad.
Cauliflower florets are cooked in boiling water with salt with an antioxidant (lemon juice or ascorbic acid) or in a blanc (one tablespoon of flour), otherwise they can turn gray. Romanesco florets are blanched in boiling water with salt and then refreshed immediately in iced water to preserve their color. A teaspoon of baking soda can also be added for this purpose.
Cooking should always be fast (10–12 minutes) so that the florets stay crisp.
Cauliflower can be made into cream soup, puree (Crème or Purée Dubarry), gratinated, and prepared à la Milanaise, or à la Polonaise (with boiled egg yolks and chopped parsley, melted butter, and breadcrumbs).
Simply boiled, it can be accompanied by crême fraîche or a Mornay sauce, mousseline, Hollandaise sauce, etc. It can also be pan-fried, made into fritters, a flan, or a soufflé.
Pickled in vinegar, by itself or with other vegetables, it is excellent.
Romanesco can be prepared in the same way.
Cauliflower and romanesco can be kept whole for 3–4 days in the refrigerator or cool room at 4ºC, covered with a cloth. The loose, washed florets can be kept in the same way.
Frozen florets should reach the freezer with the cold chain intact.
Like all cabbages, cauliflower and romanesco are high in vitamin C and other antioxidants (particularly romanesco).
They form part of those vegetables that, when eaten regularly, protect the organism from cardiovascular diseases and certain types of cancer.
They have little protein, little carbohydrate, no fat whatsoever, and provide very few calories.
They are also high in B group vitamins and in minerals and fiber.
Different varieties, with varied head sizes, come to market successively throughout the year.
Outstanding among these are the Angers Extra Early (very large head; March through June), Géant d'Automne (very large head; September through November), Merveille de toutes saisons (medium-size head; May through December), Optimist (small head; September through December).
Verde di Macerata (medium-size head, light green; September through December), Violetto di Sicilia (medium-size head, purple; September through December). Yellow cauliflowers are harder to find. These are naturally colored heirloom varieties.
The head is a reasonably large size, forming a pyramid. It can be greenish or yellowish depending on the variety (White Gold, Veronica, Maoreno, Colosso), which come to market early September through March.
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