In conversation with Raf Epstein, ABC Radio Drive, 30 May 2017
Seasonality: You’ll find some form of cruciferous (leafy) vegetable on the shelf for most of the year, but cauliflower and broccoli are at their best with a light drizzle – so autumn through early winter sees them in full bloom.
What to look for: Depending on the type of brassica, the colour will vary, but always look for vibrant hues. If possible, look for the ones that still have their outer leaves attached – the crisper these leaves, the less likely your hero of the dish has been sitting around drying out on the shelf. Broccoli will start to go yellow and sometimes even start to bloom when not handled correctly, but I find myself gravitating to dodgy broc, because it roasts up a treat. Cauliflower that’s getting on will begin darkening – so just chop these bits off before cooking. I always buy whole cauliflowers and freeze chopped up bits of any left over – hello easy extra serve of veg for another dinner!
Varieties to look out for: Sweeter and more tender than its sire, blanched broccolini is a hit with kids. Cauliflower comes in plenty of different colours beyond white – green, orange, even purple (I tend to serve the coloured ones raw through salads)! And if you’re lucky enough to find yourself in the company of a Romanesco broccoli (the bright green one that looks like it’s some sort of sculpture) grab some…They even used it as “space food” in Star Wars!
How to store: Brassicas, especially the leafier varieties, are quite delicate and don’t tend to keep long – especially when exposed to too much oxygen. Store in a plastic bag in the crisper bit of your fridge, but try not to fully seal the bag – the gases these cabbage fart-machines emit will make them go off quicker if they can’t escape a little.
How to cook: As with most green stalky vegetables, I’m most excited to see some burnt bits. Either roast them with plenty of olive oil, salt flakes and spices, or pop florets through a stir fry. Shaving raw cauliflower and broccoli through salads is always a hit too, especially when you slice vertically to keep the “tree” shape going. If you’re in a rush, blanching florets in boiling salted water for about a minute or so (until vivid green for brocc or mildly translucent for cauli) is much better than boiling the flavour out of them.
Rice is Nice: Cauliflower rice has taken the internet by storm, because it’s a grain-free alternative to its namesake, and because it means a bonus layer of flavour to a meal. Though there are more technical versions, I just grate raw cauliflower (or blitz in the food processor if I’m serving more than just the two of us) and then pour my hot dish over the top (be it a curry or casserole) to help soften up the cauliflower a little. A bigger grate means you’ve just made cauliflower cous cous. Genius!
Complementary pairings: Anchovies, Butter, Cheese (especially cheddar, blue and parmesan), Chillies, Cream, Curry Powder, Garlic, Lemon (especially zest), Pepper.
© 2017 Alice Zaslavsky