Can This Be Cauli?
On Cauliflower & Broccoli
The gracious self-appointed cookery guru swans onto the TV screen, hair immaculate, straight from the hands of the professional hairdresser behind the scenes, make-up impenetrable perfection, designer clothes uncreased and unspotted, no apron in sight… Points. (She’s good at that.)
Aw, yeah. Those sort of pointy, sort of chartreuse or purple-green things are cauliflowers. Kind of. Well, yeah, I have heard of them. Well, read about them. Very popular in Wherever, are they, posh lady “cook”? Mm.
No, dear blog reader, I can’t actually tell you which of the sickening self-appointed lady cookery gurus it was, because I honestly can’t remember, they all swim together into one excruciatingly well-dressed, well-groomed, improbably slim and completely unbelievable mass. But it was quite recent.
Yes, Veronica, today we do get (um, not get, see—see), today we do see green pointy cauliflowers and purple pointy cauliflowers, at least on our TV screens. Funnily enough in my local supermarket in the second decade of the 21st century we only get the usual white overgrown Australasian ones. Big. Huge. And sometimes they’re greyish-yellow round the edges, into the bargain. And on really bad weeks they’re brownish.
These, in short, are the good old caulis we’ve always eaten in Australia and New Zealand. Mum sometimes cooked cauliflower during the Fifties, but not often, as it was relatively dear, and a little more often during the Sixties when the family had a bit more money to spare. Only when it was in season, of course. Usually in the dreaded steamer (yes, I have mentioned that before). It was cut into large chunks, and it was done when, just like her cabbage, it looked slightly pink in the middle and was very, very soft. –See the earlier blog post, “Killing Vegetables: Cabbage”
Is very, very soft cauliflower disgusting?
The way the hugely popular New Zealand cookbook, the Edmonds Cookery Book (De luxe ed., [Christchurch], T.J. Edmonds Ltd., 1955) treats cauliflower goes a long way towards explaining why us kids didn’t like it. This recipe book typifies the attitudes of the time towards “cooking”, in which baking and making desserts loomed large: in the 1968 reprint of the “De Luxe” edition, 69 of the 120 pages of recipes are devoted to baked goods and desserts, with 52 being the baked goods. Given that meat, fish, soups, pickles, preserves, jams & jellies, salads, sauces and sweets all had to be fitted in as well, that didn’t leave much room for veggies. In fact they get 3 pages, one of which is largely taken up by a “Timetable for Boiling Vegetables”, listing them alphabetically: 23 vegetables in all. Boiling was pretty much what you did to veggies, you see.
Cauliflower rates 2 listings:
CAULIFLOWER (flowerets): Cook 10 to 15 mins. in a little boiling water or steam
CAULIFLOWER (whole): Cook with head up, 20 to 30 mins. in a little boiling water
You can’t really blame Mum for killing the poor vegetable stone dead, if this was all the guidance the New Zealand home cook’s bible provided.
Broccoli? What’s That?
The earliest New Zealand recipes I’ve got for cauliflower’s green cousin, broccoli, date from 1980. We’d never heard of it when I was a kid. In 1968 it still didn’t rate a mention in the Edmonds Cookery Book.
In America, however, it was already popular by this time. According to the GourmetSleuth website its history “dates back to the 1920's in the U.S.,” and it is now one of their most common vegetables.
Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book, first published in 1978, claims that broccoli, which of course is a Mediterranean vegetable, most notably grown in Italy, was known in Britain centuries earlier:
“The man who did most to popularise purple sprouting broccoli in this country was Stephen Switzer. He designed gardens for the aristocracy, and was famous for his books on the subject. In the 1720s he was running a seed business in London … [and] had a small pamphlet printed telling his clients how to grow and cook Italian broccoli, Spanish cardoons, celeriac, Florentine fennel and other items.”
All extremely popular vegetables in Britain today, I hear you cry. Yeah. Well, the aforesaid TV gurus (male as well as female) will certainly have recipes for them all, yep.
Reading very painstakingly between the lines, I think that Jane Grigson may be talking about an old form of sprouting broccoli that was more like the stalky stuff that we call “broccolini” in Australia today. During the past ten or fifteen years it has crept into the supermarkets, yes. Done up in hugely overpriced small bundles, like asparagus. I have tried it and it was horrible, plus and set off the Brassicaceae-induced diarrhoea that these days I only get from the rankest specimens of that plant family. So I shan’t recommend it!
The large, rounded green heads, occasionally with a faint purple blush, that we know today as “broccoli” are what Jane Grigson calls “Calabrese”, which she claims the British, by 1978, had been “eating for years as frozen green broccoli.” (Had they? We hadn’t, in EnZed.) The fresh stuff, by contrast, being quite new in the shops, in Britain.
I suppose that gives us a terminus a quo of sorts for fresh broccoli, given that New Zealand and Australian food was still almost entirely British-based at the time.
I have got earlier recipes, at least one of which I collected in New Zealand in the 1970s, but none of them were published in New Zealand or Australia. By 1980, however, when Mary Browne, Helen Leach and Nancy Tichborne published The Cook’s Garden: For Cooks Who Garden and Gardeners Who Cook (Wellington, Reed), both “sprouting” and “heading” broccoli were readily available as crops for the New Zealand home gardener. (Sprouting broccoli today is not the same as broccolini. The sprouting sort produces a central head, cauliflower-fashion, but also sends up small flower heads on side shoots.)
Today in Australia and New Zealand you see broccoli in the supermarkets much more often than cauliflower: in 40 years the strange green relation has far outstripped its blonde cousin in popularity.
Lately cauliflower seems to have gone all trendy and you have to “roast” it in the oven. Judging by the pics that go with these efforts, the result is revolting: burnt on top and inedible underneath. However, while the fad lasts you gotta do it, apparently.
Ignore this modern rubbish. Let’s have a look at that good old standby of the New Zealand and Australian family kitchen, Cauliflower Cheese.
Where Did the Cheese Come From?
Cauliflower Cheese is a pretty old recipe in the English, and thus the Australasian, culinary tradition. As early as 1894 it was certainly presented to the Australian public as a standard dish, the cauli itself costing only 4d (fourpence).
Cauliflowers Au Gratin
1 Cauliflower; 1/2 pint White Sauce;
2 oz. Dry Grated Cheese; Pepper and Salt
Boil the cauliflower and make the sauce by directions already given [below]. Put the cauliflower into a dish in which it can be served, put half the cheese into the white sauce, season with pepper and salt, make it hot and pour over. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on the top, and put into the oven till quite brown; it is then ready to serve.
To Boil Cauliflowers
Soak the cauliflowers in plenty of salt and water, with the flower downwards, then cook, in plenty of boiling water seasoned with salt, putting the flower to the bottom of the saucepan. Keep uncovered all the time of cooking; take up with a slice and strain in a colander.
1/2 pint Milk; 1 oz. Butter; 1/2 oz. Flour; Salt and Pepper
Put the butter into a small saucepan, and when it is dissolved put in the flour; mix well and pour on the cold milk and stir till it boils. Let it boil for two minutes and it is ready. It may be served either as a sweet or savoury sauce, putting either sugar or pepper and salt, as required.
(Philip E. Muskett and Mrs H. Wicken. The Art of Living in Australia, by Philip E. Muskett; Together With Three Hundred Australian Cookery Recipes and Accessory Kitchen Information by Mrs. H. Wicken. London, Eyre & Spottiswode, )
This is pretty much the recipe we still follow for Cauliflower Cheese, though I think most people would cook the cauli cut up, not whole. The Australian “BestRecipes” website, http://www.bestrecipes.com.au/ , whose recipes provide quite a reliable picture of what keen Antipodean home cooks actually cook today, has two basic recipes for Cauliflower Cheese. One, by “abrarose”, uses a plain white sauce on the cooked cauliflower and smothers it in a mixture of two cheeses before baking in the oven to finish. (http://www.bestrecipes.com.au/recipe/cauliflower-cheese-L2508.html)
This is the other one: it uses the grill to finish rather than the oven, & adds breadcrumbs to the topping, but has the now standard Mornay (cheese) sauce:
500 g cauliflower broken into florets;
30 g butter; 3 tsp plain flour; 3/4 cup milk;
1/2 cup cheddar cheese grated;
1/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs
STEP 1. Steam or microwave cauliflower for a few minutes until tender. Arrange the cooked cauliflower on a shallow oven-proof dish.
STEP 2. Melt the butter in a small pan. Add the flour and cook, stirring for a minute until golden and bubbling.
STEP 3. Add the milk slowly, a little at a time. When the milk has been added, keep stirring over a medium heat until it boils and thickens.
STEP 4. Take it off the heat and add almost all the cheese. Stir until the cheese had [sic] melted.
STEP 5. Pour the sauce over the cauliflower. Sprinkle the remaining cheese and the breadcrumbs on top.
STEP 6. Place under a hot grill for a few minutes until the cheese has melted and the breadcrumbs are golden brown.
STEP 7. Top with herbs of choice and serve.
By “JoPham”, BestRecipes.com.au,
Yes, okay, I am a fan of Cauliflower Cheese. I use Tasty cheese and, like “JoPham”, I don’t add salt: the local cheddar cheese is more than salty enough. But a good grinding of black peppercorns is nice. You could brown the dish in the oven if you prefer. And the breadcrumbs, though a yummy touch, are optional, really.
Here’s Roux for You
When you make the sauce, don’t just stir the milk in until the mixture is smooth. Stir just a little milk briskly into the flour and butter until it really thickens up into a heavy paste. This will ensure the flour is properly cooked through, and your sauce will not only not have a raw flour taste, it will thicken up really easily as you stir in the rest of the milk, as the writer says, a little at a time. (Trial and error—I’ve never read this in a cookbook, presumably the experts prefer to keep it to themselves. The thick paste is what they call a “roux”—most of the books just tell you airily to “make a roux.” Yeah.)
Cross-Cultural Saucy Pakoras
My favourite way of cooking both cauliflower and broccoli is an Indian method, that I first encountered in Delhi in the mid-1970s. It was one of those examples of East meeting West in cookery. –See the earlier blog post, “The Taj and The Raj: Not Much Chop?”
It’s a cosy, crowded little Delhi restaurant, not a foreigner in sight. Looking very pleased with himself, the waiter trots up with our cauliflower pakora. Proudly he serves us with a bottle of very Western tomato sauce! (Of the sort that Mum considers down-market—yep, that good old tomato sauce.) Raju explains seriously that the restaurant proprietors are proud of this Western touch, and that that’s why the place is so popular, and why there are such a lot of young people here!
Pakoras, to use the Westernised plural, are Indian fritters. Traditionally they are deep-fried but I just do them in a deepish frying-pan in about a centimetre of oil. It’s a Vegan batter, no eggs, and once you’ve got the trick of it it’s really easy to make. You can use almost any vegetable that can be sliced into smallish chunks. The more solid vegetables like potato need to be boiled or steamed first, or you risk leaving them raw in the middle. Below is my take on pakoras:
Cauliflower or Broccoli Pakoras
1/2 cauliflower or 1 head broccoli, cut into small florets;
1 1/2 cups besan flour (chickpea or garbanzo bean flour);
2 teaspoons cumin powder; 1 teaspoon fennel seeds;
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder (less if preferred);
1 level teaspoon turmeric; 1/2 to 3/4 cup water;
oil for frying
1. In a large bowl combine besan flour and spices. Add a little water and mix in very thoroughly so that you get a smooth, thick, doughy paste with no lumps. (This is the crucial step! Besan flour is diabolically difficult to work with, otherwise.)
2. Then gradually add most of the remaining water, stirring well with each addition, until it’s like a thick pancake batter. (Depending on the dryness of the besan flour & the ambient humidity the amount of water will vary.)
3. Mix the pieces of cauliflower or broccoli into the batter, gently turning them until they become well coated. (You will still see the vegetable peeping through.)
4. Heat about a centimetre of oil in a deepish frying-pan or electric frypan on medium-high heat. Drop a little batter in to test it: when it is hot enough the batter will quickly fry and float.
5. Cook the vegetable pieces a few at a time in the oil, turning once or twice so as they cook through (about 5 minutes).
6. Drain on paper towels or a rack and serve hot with your preferred sauce or chutney.
(Based on: “Cauliflower Pakoras”, The Higher Taste: A Guide to Gourmet Vegetarian Cooking and a Karma-Free Diet. Los Angeles, Sydney, Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1983)
And here’s the easy tomato sauce I prefer to the chemical-laden bottled sort:
Easy Fake Tomato Sauce
Mix 2 packets tomato paste (50 g each) with 2 teaspoons raw sugar. Add enough boiling water to mix to a thick sauce consistency, stirring well until the sugar is absorbed. Then add about 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, and stir in. Cool and it is ready to use.
Very Early Broccoli: Failure to Launch
The earliest recipes I could find for broccoli in an English book are in Janet Ross’s Leaves from our Tuscan Kitchen, first published in 1899, second edition 1900. She wasn’t the cook: she had a trained male Italian chef. Michael Waterfield wrote a revised edition of the book in 1973, but if you want the authentic touch, get a reprint edition. I got this one from Amazon.com:
Janet Ross (1842-1927). Leaves From Our Tuscan Kitchen, or How To Cook Vegetables (1900). [United States], Kessinger Publishing,  (Kessinger Legacy Reprints)
This is a facsimile reprint of Harvard University Library’s copy of the 1900 second edition, published in London by J.M. Dent & Co.
The British continued to torture vegetables regardless for the next century. Janet Ross’s delicious recipes remained largely ignored, although there were attempts to republish the book, first in the 1920s and again in the 1970s. Perhaps there were just too many foreign vegetables and expensive ingredients for most people: Janet Ross lived an upper-class life, and the recipes her chef provided her with use butter, cream and eggs a lot.
She has three recipes for broccoli in the 1900 edition. One is simply with a white sauce and one is “Broccoli ‘alla Parmigiana’”, which of course uses Parmesan cheese. It adds egg yolks, but apart from that it is very like the standard English-language recipes for Cauliflower Cheese. It’s finished with cheese and breadcrumbs and baked in the oven. I find this is overkill for broccoli: I just pour a little cheese sauce on the lightly boiled or steamed broccoli.
Here’s the intriguing third recipe, “alla Crema.” In the cholesterol-conscious 21st century you may well find it too rich. Though possibly not, if you’re a fan of Tirami—(ulp)—su.
Broccoli ‘alla Crema’
Wash and clean the broccoli well, put them into salted cold water for half an hour. Then wrap each head in a piece of linen to prevent its breaking, and put into salted boiling water for about twenty minutes. When cooked, remove the linen carefully so as not to break the heads, place them in a hot dish, pour half a pint [300 ml] (for each head) of hot ‘Alla Panna” sauce (… [below]) over them, and serve immediately.
‘Alla Panna’ Sauce
Melt half a pound [225 g] of butter, add a little flour, salt, pepper, and grated nutmeg. Stir until thick, then add one pint [600 ml] of cream, a little chopped parsley, and beat for five minutes.
Early Broccoli Stir-Fry
Below is the first broccoli recipe I cut out of a magazine in New Zealand—I think it must have been in the later 1970s. At some stage I metricated the list of ingredients, and wrote “cornflour” rather than “cornstarch”, but I’m pretty sure that it was originally an American recipe, from a Woman’s Day—we were still getting the American edition, back then. It always had a big recipe section.
We’d call it “a stir-fry” today but the nominal expression wasn’t used in those days. It's still nice, so here it is, why not?
Beef with Broccoli
1/2 kg flank steak, finely sliced; 250 g broccoli
1 piece ginger, finely sliced; 1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tblsp cornflour; 1 tblsp dry sherry or rice wine
1 teaspoon sugar; 5 tblsp oil
Mix steak with soy sauce, cornflour, sherry & sugar, & set aside.
Cut broccoli in florets about 2 in. [4-5 cm.] long, peel stalk and slice in 2-in. lengths less than 1/2 in. thick [about 1 cm].
Put 2 tablespoons oil in hot pan over high heat. Add broccoli & stir-fry, turning constantly, until broccoli is dark green - not over 2 min. Remove from pan.
Put remaining oil in pan; add beef mixture and ginger. Stir-fry, turning constantly, not more than 2 min.
Add broccoli and mix well. Serve at once.
Makes 2 or 3 servings.
I’ve got a lot of recipes for broccoli in my database, but it’s hard to find one that doesn’t use cream or cheese, or doesn’t include a lot of other ingredients. In fact, looking at them again, I’m starting to wonder if all those other ingredients in the stir-fries and pilafs and etcetera are there to disguise the broccoli… It can be pretty horrible, if you overcook it. And like all Brassicaceae, it should be really fresh. If the end of the cut stem looks brownish, don’t buy it!
I really think broccoli’s best if you do as little as possible to it. Let’s fall back on the people who know the vegetable best: the Italians. No, not Janet Ross again, that chef of hers was imbued with the cordon bleu tradition. This is a regional dish, from the Rome-Lazio area:
Broccoli “a crudo”
2 lb [1 kg] broccoli; 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped;
2 cups dry white wine; pepper;
5 tablespoons olive oil; salt
Clean the broccoli. Divide the heads into small pieces & wash well in cold water, then leave in cold salted water till ready to be cooked. Drain well.
Heat the oil in a large pan & sauté the garlic until golden but not brown.
Add the broccoli leaves [if using sprouting broccoli], season to taste with salt & pepper, & continue to sauté gently till the leaves are tender.
Add the heads & more salt & pepper if required.
Pour in the wine, bring to the boil slowly & cook gently, stirring occasionally, till tender.
Serve very hot, either as a vegetable by itself, or as an accompaniment to boiled or roast meat.
(Ada Boni. Italian Regional Cooking. New York, Dutton, 1969)
Oh, boy, the long ago… I collected that recipe years back—not as far back as 1969, no. Around 1976, think that was the year that Stan the Man was in France on sabbatical leave. Anyway, it was some time in the second half of the 1970s. An American friend and I were both mad-keen on cooking, and as we were both working in Wellington Public Library’s cataloguing department (for my sins, in my case), we saw all the huge, expensive shiny cookbooks first!
Like your broccoli simpler still? Well, depends what you want to serve it with. It’s lovely cooked until tender-crisp, either by boiling or steaming. But I often do it like this:
Sautéed Broccoli with Garlic
1 medium head of broccoli; 2 cloves garlic, chopped;
black peppercorns; 2 tablespoons olive oil
1. Wash and dry the broccoli and cut off the heavy part of the stalk. Peel the hard skin off the remainder of the stalk. Cut the broccoli lengthwise into pieces about 1 centimetre thick.
2. Heat the oil in a frying-pan or electric frypan on medium heat. Add the broccoli pieces and the garlic. Fry, stirring gently occasionally, until only just tender.
3. Add a good grinding of black peppercorns and serve.
Serves 2 - 3.
This will go with a range of main dishes from a variety of cuisines. It’s good with shallow-fried or grilled chicken or steak, but I also like it as the green vegetable if I’ve done a heavy Indian curry (meat or dal), or a Moroccan-style stew, together with plain rice or couscous.
Even Simpler: Broccoli Italiani
I thought Elizabeth David might come up with something unusual for broccoli, but her Italian Food (first published 1954) says very little about it. It’s mentioned in passing a couple of times, but only as simply boiled. Her one recipe is very simple, too:
Cook the broccoli for 5 to 7 minutes in boiling salted water. Serve with melted butter, or cold with oil and lemon.
(Elizabeth David. Italian Food. 2nd ed. (revised). London, Macdonald for the Cookery Book Club, 1966)
Cold broccoli’s revolting? It is if it’s been overcooked, yes. It should still be crisp and frisky-looking. Then it’ll take the oil and lemon nicely. Eat it up quickly: don’t let it stand around, or it’ll deteriorate.
And if you do manage to source a pointy greenery-yellery or purple or even purple-green cauliflower, try it with my blessing. I’d take a large bet it’ll taste like a cross between broccoli (green) and cauliflowers (white).
|Katy with pointy cauli hat|