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The properties of cauliflower

Cauliflower, despite being considered a poor ingredient, is among the most popular and recurring foods in Italian cuisine. The typical inflorescence, which is made up of numerous huge flowering peduncles packed together to form what is known as a “head” or “ball,” is what distinguishes it. As a species, cauliflower is incredibly adaptable, growing on nearly any kind of land and being harvested from October to May. All varieties of cauliflower are distinguished by their state of ripeness and harvesting period.

This vegetable is also incredibly nutrient-dense; in fact, it has a high potassium and vitamin C content. Additionally, it has a lot of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds, which are beneficial to the thyroid and cardiovascular systems. Lastly, at 40 kcal per 100 grammes, it has an extremely low calorie intake.

The best-known varieties

There are numerous varieties of cauliflower, which are mainly distinguished by the period in which they are harvested. Therefore, they have different degrees of maturation. Here is an exhaustive overview of cauliflower varieties:

  • Autumn: It is the traditional salad cauliflower, with a full-bodied taste and a somewhat crispy inflorescence.
  • Winter: In terms of crunchiness and flavour, it is similar to the autumn one, although it is a little sweeter and softer on the palate.
  • Spring. This variety is characterised by a distinctly sweeter flavour than the others and a marked softness. It is mainly used as a condiment for first courses.
  • Orange: It is one of the varieties that stands out not only for its bright colour but also for its sweetness and a decidedly fuller taste. It is the ideal cauliflower for soups and purees, as well as for unique recipes such as orange cauliflower croquettes. Its bright colour is due to the abundance of beta-carotene, with a contribution of about 25% higher than the white variant.
  • White: It is a cauliflower that is appreciated for its flavour, which is halfway between sweet and aromatic. It can be used as a salad ingredient, perhaps enriched with oil, salt, and vinegar. It can also be used to prepare risottos, pasta sauces, and fillings.
  • Green: It is a coloured variant of cauliflower. One of its distinguishing features is the existence of beta-carotene, which functions as a precursor to vitamin A. Its flavour is slightly more subtle than that of its white equivalent, but it is essentially the same.
  • Purple: It presents one of the many chromatic shades of cauliflower. Although this variation’s flavour is identical to that of the others, it nevertheless has nutritional value. Anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants with anti-cancer properties and the ability to combat free radicals, are what give purple cauliflower its colour.

How can it be used in the kitchen?

Cauliflower has an unpleasant characteristic; in fact, when it is cooked, it tends to stink. This peculiarity is due to some particular substances that cover the surface but have no impact either in terms of taste or even in terms of nutritional value. Regardless, cauliflower stands out for its versatility, as demonstrated by the many recipes in which it is used as the main ingredient. Below, I present some of them:

Some of the cauliflower-based recipes are part of Italian regional traditions, especially those of northern Italy. In particular, I am referring to recipes that use cauliflower as a condiment for the famous dumplings. Some recipes are more daring and offer unique pairings; I’m referring to “fusion” meals that pair cauliflower with common components from other culinary traditions, including tempura and wasabi.

How to cook cauliflower

Although it is associated with side dishes, cauliflower is actually an excellent ingredient for first courses. Here are some examples (which I have already covered here on the site):

Roasted Cauliflower Soup. It is a more unique soup than usual, also because it is made with shrimp. In this case, the cauliflowers are cooked in the oven, combined with potatoes and leeks, fried, and finally blended to form a creamy and velvety base.

Cauliflower soup with juniper. Can a cauliflower-based recipe smell good? Obviously, yes, if it is well spiced. This is the case with this soup, which, among other things, features creme fraiche and chicken broth.

Cauliflower and potato cream. This is a gourmet first course, although it uses officially “poor” ingredients. It’s a delicate cream of cauliflower and potatoes with some spinach and chicken rolls mixed in, almost as a decorative element.

Pasta with cauliflower pesto. Here, cauliflower is the main ingredient of a very delicate and tasty sauce, also made with cream and a classic sauté of onions and leeks.

Grated cauliflower. This is actually a more sophisticated version of the traditional au gratin because it includes bechamel and speck in addition to the vegetable. Because it is simultaneously creamy and crunchy, it is a meal that appeals to many people.

Boiled cauliflower is typically served as a side dish. Simply bring the vegetable to a boil in lightly salted water for about twenty minutes, then drain and add olive oil and spices (parsley, black pepper, etc.) to taste.

You can cook cauliflower in a pan. In this case, I suggest using butter as the cooking fat because it helps to reduce the intensity of the vegetable’s flavour.

What are the benefits of cauliflower?

At this point, it is worth delving into the nutritional benefits of cauliflower. As we have seen, the nutritional properties of cauliflower are excellent, and this has a positive impact on the body.

To begin with, cauliflower benefits the digestive system by virtue of a marked abundance of fibre. Furthermore, it guarantees a balanced absorption of sugars and fats. Important values such as blood sugar and cholesterol are also controlled.

Cauliflower also has an impact on the vascular system; moreover, it is rich in vitamin K, which regulates blood density and helps prevent thrombotic pathologies.

The consumption of mineral salts is also abundant, which has an effect on numerous organs: potassium controls blood pressure, phosphorus helps the brain, and calcium strengthens bones and teeth.

Finally, because it can be eaten in large amounts and enhances satiety, cauliflower is beneficial for people on a weight-loss regimen; just be careful not to season the dish too heavily.

What are the contraindications to cauliflower?

It may seem strange to talk about contraindications for a vegetable that, as we have seen, is very healthy. However, contraindications exist, but they are due to excessive consumption of the vegetable in quantities exceeding half a kilo per day.

In this case, you may feel a sense of discomfort in the stomach and intestines. The abundance of fibres that cauliflower boasts, in fact, can act as a double-edged sword: on one hand, it supports digestion, while on the other, it can cause (in cases of excessive consumption) meteorism, swelling, and irritability of the intestinal mucous membranes.

Are there any intolerances or allergies to cauliflower? More than anything, we should talk about para-allergic reactions. These can affect even young people (i.e., children in the weaning phase). Symptoms involve the stomach and intestines and are typically nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Fortunately, this type of cauliflower allergy tends to disappear over time, i.e., within five years.