For a number of years now, for reasons of both ethical and thrifty, we have been encouraged to use all of the animal: buy whole chickens, use the various parts over multiple meals, use the carcass to make a stock. Embrace the traditionally cheaper cuts of beef and pork, not just the ‘prime’ joints. Try offal, you might like it!
The "nose to tail" ethos is certainly something everyone should continue to embrace, as it’s not just a trend for chef-y types. Let's apply the same philosophy to vegetables (one British chef, Tom Hunt, calls it "root to fruit" eating). That means making pesto from carrot tops; roasting potato peels; saving the less attractive bits of fennel, leeks and onions to flavor stocks; and, most obviously, enjoying the stems and leaves of brassicas like broccoli and cauliflower. Again, this "no waste" approach is good for the environment and for our pockets. But it’s also good for our taste buds.
Take cauliflower, for example: We all know about the florets. Steam, boil, fry, or roast them. Purée them with a little milk and butter. Toss them with grains or pulses to make a salad; slather with a cheesy white sauce and brown under the grill. All these ways are nice. But how many of us throw the core away? It might not look as pretty as the florets, but it’s actually sweeter and can be cooked the same way (this is true too for the core and stems of broccoli florets).
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And then there are the greens. Yes, they look like tatty packaging. Yes, the outer ones are probably muddy and often unattractive. But also yes, they are edible. The thicker outer stems and leaves need to be trimmed and blanched, but once tender, are fresh tasting, with a hint of the cauliflower they’ve protected. The inner, pale, delicate, and crisp leaves can be eaten raw like a crudité, dressed with a vinaigrette and included in a salad, or warmed in the residual heat of other ingredients.
If you fancy cauliflower greens as a side dish, you don’t need to use the white parts at the same time—cut it from the base of the cauliflower they will keep in the fridge for a few days if stored in a paper bag or ziplock. Before throwing it into salted boiling water for 3 minutes, slice the thickest stems in half lengthways so they’re no wider than a finger, and cut any longer ones in half lengthwise. Alternatively, just wash (don’t trim) the greens, toss in olive oil and salt and roast at a high temperature for about 20 minutes. It's SO good.
That said, I quite like eating them at the same time as the white part—the occasional flash and bite of green breaks the monotony of the florets. And this cauliflower pasta bake is an example of how to do that. The florets and core are browned briefly in a pan, so they take on color and flavor, but don’t become as mushy as when roasted. Briefly cook the thicker greens in the pasta water for a minute or so, and then effectively roast them in the oven. Other good bits going on include anchovies, garlic, mustard and Parmesan...plus the fact there’s no need to make a white sauce. It’s a great weeknight supper, and a great example of why and how we should eat every last bit of a vegetable.
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