Just like brussels sprouts, gassy (just being honest) brassicas such as cauliflower and broccoli have had quite the hill to climb, in order to be considered legitimately edible, let alone cool. But (just like brussels sprouts), they’ve finally emerged victorious, trending so heavily at restaurants that — instead of being merely obscured under more universally appealing ingredients, like bacon — they’re increasingly, lovingly showcased in their purest forms. Honestly, how many whole roasted heads of cauliflower have you seen at eateries in the past few years? Because we’ve come across lots.
And that’s just a starting out point. One of our absolute favorite dishes at the top-rated Middle Eastern establishment, Tanoreen, is the Cauliflower Salad; featuring caramelized florets tossed in a tahini and pomegranate molasses vinaigrette that’s flat-out addictive. Brooklyn’s Michelin-starred The Finch also performs miracles with cauliflower, turning it into crunchy pickles, paired with chicken liver mousse and toast, and pureeing it into creamy custard, topped with charred cauliflower pieces, tarragon needles and brussels sprouts leaves.
Even Broccoli is considered chic nowadays; in fact, it’s become a bit of a signature at both Dirt Candy and No.7. Amanda Cohen (Dirt Candy) frequently offers Broccoli “Dogs” — bits of smoked stalk, tucked into buns and topped with broccoli kraut — as well as Korean Fried Broccoli, deep-fried and drizzled with a sweet, sticky sauce, while the latter has popularized the Broccoli Taco, piled into tortillas with peanuts, feta and black beans. And look out for broccoli’s sexy Roman cousin, romanesco; the lime-green, cone-shaped buds comprise a seriously unique salad at Virginia’s, tossed with smoked pine nuts, clothbound cheddar and speck vinaigrette, and it’s featured as an antipasti at Missy Robbin’s hot Williamsburg newcomer, Lilia; smeared with Sicilian pesto and accented with spicy soppressata and marjoram.
Ready to up your broccoli (and cauliflower, and romanesco) game at home? Needless to say, the first two are easy to find just about anywhere, from supermarkets to gourmet grocers to farm stands; but not all heads are created equal. They should feel heavy for their size, with tight florets and firm stalks. Broccoli should be an even green (avoid yellowing buds), and cauliflower should be uniformly colored, whether its white, orange or purple; steer clear of bruises and soft spots. You might have to search a bit harder for romanesco (sometimes called fractal broccoli, although it’s actually a kind of cauliflower), which is decidedly more exotic with its vibrant, almost alien-esque spires. Although when you find it, perimeters are pretty much identical — discard any specimens that are discolored or limp. The same rules of storage apply to each as well; keep, unwashed, in an open plastic bag in the fridge, and use within a week.
So besides boiling or steaming (which, frankly, is how broccoli and cauliflower got their bum rap to begin with), how to prepare the crunchy cabbages? Obviously, they can be served raw on a crudite platter, shredded and incorporated into salad or slaw or slightly blanched, and used as dippers for drippy fondue. As mentioned before, whole heads of cauliflower can be roasted (same for romanesco; an ideal way to preserve its great looks), or broken into florets first, tossed with olive oil and seasonings — prepared this way, broccoli tastes every bit as nutty and decadent as that early trendsetter, brussels sprouts.
Going the casserole or gratin route is a classic (who doesn’t love anything shrouded in cream, breadcrumbs and cheese?), and soup is traditional choice as well; boil your vegetables in stock, then puree with a blender. But if you’re ready to think outside the box, cauliflower, in particular, has become a real culinary warhorse — broken into teeny tiny bits, the silky buds are a dead ringer for risotto or couscous, and a lot of gluten-free diners are even transforming the starchy veggie into ingenious, wheatless pizza crusts. And instead of defaulting to chicken, why not try making buffalo cauliflower; fat florets cloaked in butter and hot sauce, and showered in piquant blue cheese?
So if you’ve already gotten over your childhood aversion to brussels sprouts, consider granting a second chance to broccoli, cauliflower, and exotic romanesco as well — and if all else fails, you can always cover them up with bacon.
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