It is my perfect dream, my perfect memory.
The Tuscan sun in late afternoon, pealing down its warmth as I mix and knead an egg-rich pasta dough. Locally milled flour, oil freshly pressed from a nearby grove, and eggs from a chicken who mills around and eyes me suspiciously. She’s right to be wary: pasta today, perhaps roast chook tomorrow!
And then my friend Shaun showed me something really novel, a roasted cauliflower filling for our ravioli. That’s right, roasted! I’d always liked cauliflower with ever falling deep into a vegetative romance with it. Until now, that is. Cooked incredibly slowly in olive oil, garden thyme and freshly picked spring garlic shoots the cauliflower florets took on a sweetness and depth I’d not tasted before. While the intrinsic flavour of a cauliflower is herbaceous and light, it became earthy and rich when cooked this way, anchoring itself to my palate.
It was entirely appropriate that I discovered this in Italy. After all, the Italian peninsula is the birthplace of all the world’s cauliflowers, even if 75% of the world’s crop is now grown in China and India.
In fact, Shaun and I were cooking a uniquely Tuscan Spring-flowering cultivar called the Romanesco, a spikier and longer variety of cauliflower now also available in Australia. Sometimes you may find a green version of Romanesco in your grocer under the name ‘broccoflower’. Take a close look at its structure. It is what our mathematically-minded friends call a ‘fractal image’. The same dense and twisted pattern repeats itself at all scales across the head, from the tiny individual buds, through the florets, to the whole head itself.
But cauliflower does not necessarily need to be rendered slowly in oil to showcase its culinary talents. The briefest of steaming or poaching until just tender will release its perfumes and aromas, while preserving its rich nutritional value. Cauliflower is a valuable source of dietary fibre and vitamin C. It is also one of the most powerful known sources of glucosinolates, a family of chemical that assist the liver’s detoxification process and may even help the body fight tumours. That research continues.
Meanwhile, the culinary research continues at my place, as I find new and tastier ways to enjoy one of the most beautiful vegetables I’ve ever known.
Creamy cauliflower soup