I remember the huge cauliflowers –white and purple— as well as the oversized cabbages we used to get in the old days. Now the large cauliflowers have almost completely disappeared, although we occasionally find some here, on Kea, grown from heirloom seeds.
In Greece we traditionally boil cauliflower and broccoli in plenty of water, but the small tender ones we get today taste better steamed, I think. This saves us from the terrible stink that was pestering our kitchen in the winter whenever my mother boiled cauliflower to make father’s favorite salad. Although he loved cauliflower, as well as boiled cabbage, their smell as they cooked always made him furious; he yelled at mother that she had forgotten to use celery, or vinegar in the water to eliminate the smell — although she kept trying both ‘remedies’ with no success.
When I started cooking in my own kitchen I was determined to adopt the more advanced techniques, so instead of boiling, I roasted my cauliflowers. After a few years and many tries –roasting the cauliflower covered, wrapped in parchment paper etc.– I finally decided that it could never be as tender, succulent, and silky as the boiled or steamed one.
Later I discovered that restaurants usually grill or fry the already steamed or boiled cauliflower florets.
The oversized cauliflowers have almost completely disappeared, although we occasionally find some here, on Kea.
The Maroulis’ farm stand in the winter of 2008.
At the small Otzias valley, nearby, the Maroulis family cultivates seasonal heirloom vegetables feeding the soil with manure from their sheep, goats, and hens, and saving seeds from one year to the next. Their crops depend very much on the elements, as they never use any kind of pest repellents, mainly because they don’t want to waste money; now they heard it is cool to be ‘organic’ they started to advertise it, of course. Maria, the younger daughter, proudly explains to the vacationers who stop to buy vegetables from their stand that the far from perfect tomatoes, or some strange-looking cucumbers and zucchini are better than the supermarket’s. Unfortunately, this fall’s unusually warm weather that extended the summery beach days almost completely ruined their delicious huge cabbages that I was looking forward to enjoying. They were devoured by slags and rotted; I suspect the same happened to their cauliflowers.
Our garden is hopeless, as I often repeat, with stony soil that needs lots and lots of expensive compost and manure if we want to get even a few vegetables. But greens and herbs we do manage to get, and I decided to forgo even lahanides, the old-fashioned kale-like leaves I used to plant with little success. We have never managed to get a decent cabbage, but once, a few years back, we got a couple of small, yellow and purple cauliflowers around the end of winter; they were grown from heirloom southern Italian seeds I ordered online. Unfortunately, we never managed to repeat the achievement, although we used the exact same seeds the year after.
I must admit that the old huge cauliflowers were somewhat intimidating so I don’t particularly miss them; they had less tender florets and more stems, which are fine for the gratin dish I propose, but if you love a simple salad the small ones are the best.
I often buy two cauliflowers and use for the gratin the stems from both, but only a few of the florets. The fragrant Rosemary-scented Cauliflower salad I serve steaming the florets is simple and delicious.