Just looking at a head of cauliflower and feeling it in your hands and you’ll get a sense of how really beautiful and versatile this vegetable is. Its shape lends itself to numerous cooking techniques that go way beyond just cutting it into florets: It can be roasted or cooked whole for a dramatic vegetarian centerpiece, sliced into thick slabs that resemble steaks, or cooked and pureed to make a luscious side dish that’s as comforting as mashed potatoes.
The density and crispness of a head of cauliflower is also a sign of just how many different techniques you can use on it. It stands up terrifically to high heat in techniques like roasting, turning wonderfully flavorful and caramelized while holding its shape admirably. With steaming or braising it becomes terrifically silky and mild. A very fresh cauliflower is sweet and super-crunchy uncooked, a great addition to salads and crudités; you might even find yourself snacking on it raw as you prep it for another dish.
It’s available year round, but cauliflower really comes into its own in the cooler months when you may see crisp heads still swaddled in dark-green leaves. Snap these up!
Look for heads that are very dense with tightly clustered “curds.” Avoid cauliflower with brown or gray spotting, a sign of age.
Refrigerate cauliflower loosely wrapped in a paper or plastic bag for no more than 2 to 3 days.
It’s best to store cauliflower stem side down to keep condensation from forming on the head and affecting its color or texture.
Cauliflower and Parsley Omelet for Two Recipe opens in a new tab
Cooking a head of cauliflower whole is fun and easy, and the presentation can’t be beat. You can boil it covered in salted water in a large pot, or roast it, basted with butter or oil, in a 400-degree F oven. The head is done when a paring knife slides into the base with little resistance. Cooking times will vary a lot depending on the size and density of the head, so start checking simmering cauliflower after about 25 minutes and a roasting head after about 45 minutes. Place it on a platter and cut it into slices or wedges tableside. A good sauce is all you need; some standouts include savory Romesco Sauce opens in a new tab, super-healthy Tahini Miso Sauce opens in a new tab or a rich cheese sauce like this Tex-Mex inspired Queso opens in a new tab.
Cauliflower is also the main event in Spelt Pasta with Walnuts and Roasted Cauliflower opens in a new tab, a whole-grain recipe where the sweet, deep flavor imparted by roasting really steals the show; substitute brown-rice or quinoa noodles if you want a gluten-free dish.
Another superb way to enjoy the nutty, caramelized side of cauliflower is Roasted Cauliflower Steaks opens in a new tab; these meaty slabs of cauliflower are great on their own, but also work wonderfully when a hearty sauce elevates them to main-course status. Try one of the partners recommended above for a whole head, or try this simple, spicy four-ingredient Ancho Chile Sauce opens in a new tab.
Cauliflower’s affinity for deep flavors, especially curry, has long made it a staple of Indian cuisine. Its florets turn tender toothsome in dishes like Vegetable Biryani with Cashews opens in a new tab and Zesty Spiced Cauliflower. opens in a new tab I love these dishes for the way cauliflower’s sweet nuttiness balances the flavors around it.
And finally, no exploration of cauliflower’s virtues would be complete without a big mention of its luscious, versatile character when pureed. This video below for Mashed Cauliflower opens in a new tab shows you an irresistible side dish at its simplest, while Cauliflower Hummus with Olives opens in a new tab uses roasted florets for a wonderfully healthy dip or spread.
Want more great recipes? Link to our Crazy for Cauliflower opens in a new tab collection for further ways to celebrate this fantastic veggie.
Love cauliflower too? Tell how you serve it!