Cauliflower: Go for the Gold

Varieties of yellow cauliflower, such as Cheddar, have been available to growers since 2004.
Varieties of yellow cauliflower, such as Cheddar, have been available to growers since 2004. (Park Seed)
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By Barbara Damrosch
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, August 7, 2008

A late summer garden, after even a short absence, greets you like a bulging mailbox, full of surprises. After a recent bout of inattention, I gave mine a close look. Winter squash vines had begun to go walkabout. Some weeds were looking overconfident. A busy tribe of small hornets, harmless but hungry, were happily sucking sugar from the ever-bearing strawberries. But not all the discoveries I made were unwelcome. Red sunflowers had begun to bloom. Best of all, while prowling through the Brassicas, I was startled by the first of the yellow cauliflowers. A perfect head about nine inches across, it glowed like a gold nugget in its nest of huge blue-green leaves.

Yellow cauliflower, developed by Cornell researcher Michael Dickson, has been available to growers only since 2004. I'd been wanting to try it because new colors in vegetables are often coupled with different flavors and nutritional qualities and are rarely just novelties. I figured that a food I loved despite its boring whiteness could only be improved by the phytonutrients that bright colors bespeak. In this case, a rich supply of health-conveying beta carotene is the source.

I harvested my precious new find, brought it into the kitchen and started to cut it into small florets (a cauliflower is, after all, a huge flower head in bud). Amazingly, they came apart cleanly instead of crumbling all over the counter the way white cauliflower does. When I steamed them, the golden color intensified to a light orange, and the flavor was milder and less cabbage-y than that of the white variety.

The next day I cooked what was left of the head in a stir-fry along with carrots, scallions, zucchini slices and dark blue-green Tuscan kale. It was a gorgeously appetizing dish. The variety I grew is called Cheddar, available from a number of seed companies including Park Seed ( http://www.parkseed.com).

It matures in 58 days from transplants (about two weeks longer from direct seeding) and because it is a cool-weather crop, you can start some for fall if you hurry. Rake some compost into the bed, then sow the seeds in clusters of three or four seeds, 18 inches apart. Keep the soil in the bed moist. Thin to the best seedling per cluster after emergence. You should have heads before October ends, and a light touch of frost will sweeten their flavor even more.

Although the variety name was no doubt inspired by its hue, I take it as an invitation to make one of my favorite soups: cream of cauliflower with onions and a generous grating of sharp cheddar cheese stirred in while hot. Maybe a little Tabasco sauce, too. Nothing boring about that.


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