Saturday, September 19, 2009

Harvest, bake, yum

Have you ever re-discovered and enjoyed a vegetable in later life which you loathed as a child? Cauliflower is that story for me. Mum was a cauliflower traditionalist and I hated it, no matter how she served it. The discovery I made came in two stages. The first was when I had deep-fried cauliflower at a Lebanese restaurant for the first time. Wow! The second was only five or so years ago, when Pam baked some cauliflower and it tasted every bit as good as, and indeed was very similar to, the deep-fried Lebanese cauli.

And so this year, now being a reborn cauliflower fan, I decided to have a go at growing them. Today I harvested two of the plants we have growing here, and tonight one of them is destined to be part of dinner, along with some Atlantic salmon and in-season broad beans, plus of course a suitable grape-based beverage to wash it down.

Here's the harvest so far. These are called 'mini' cauliflowers, smaller than the normal ones supposedly, but despite their name they're still a good size. The caulis themselves are each six inches across, while the plants are about two feet (60cm) high, which is not all that 'mini' as far as I am concerned.

Like so many brassicas, they're quite handsome plants, with a lovely shade of blue-green to the foliage.

I didn't expect them to grow so big, and they've proved to be a poor neighbour to other vegie patch companions such as my lettuce (here) and the garlic I have going in another garden bed. Harvesting a couple of cauliflower plants has eased tensions somewhat.

For a while I fretted that I might have overdone the nitrogen-rich organic plant food, as the caulis were all leaf and no caulis. It wasn't until about three weeks ago that there was any sign of the white curds of the cauliflower itself (which really are a flower head by the way). I'm tempted to let one grow on all the way to flowering stage (maybe next year) just to see what they're like. Pictured above, the baby cauli has started to form.

About a week later it has grown a fair bit in size, and baby caulis are starting to appear on the other plants. Whoopee – I'm a farmer!

One great bit of advice I received was to protect the forming caulis from the sun to keep the curds pure white, by snapping some of the inner leaves with my fingers, so they folded in half and formed a protective cover. I'm sure that helped the quality of the final caulis a lot, so thank you Don!

I might have been lucky, but the plants didn't strike much bother with pests or diseases. Some slugs were the only foes of note, and they appeared only when the caulis themselves started forming, but regular morning patrols sorted them out. Before planting the seedlings, I thoroughly fed the soil with chicken poo, compost and dolomite lime, and after the first month I gave them all a liquid feed of Nitrosol, an organic plant food rich in nitrogen. That was it. Anyway, as I've blabbed on about baking them, I had better finish off with the basics of doing it.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) (if using fan-forced, lower the temp a notch or two).

Wash the cauli, cut it into florets (medium sized, not too big), then check out the big tip!
Big tip: put all the washed florets into salted water for 10 minutes to soak. This can eject any little critters who have hitched a ride on your caulis during harvesting. When I did this, let's just say it worked! After soaking, drain the caulis, then toss into a bowl.

Grind over some salt and pepper to taste, then spray or drizzle the florets with oil (I used light olive oil), then toss the florets carefully so they have just the lightest coating of oil.

I bake mine on a flat tray, but use whatever baking dish you have. Bake them for about 25-30 minutes. Cooking time will vary, depending on the size of the florets, but testing with a skewer helps first time round. Also, remove one of the smaller florets after about 20 minutes and do a taste test. Either test should give you an idea of cooking times and how you're going. The florets will brown slightly towards the end of cooking, and that is what you're after. Lightly golden on the outside, sweet and delicious on the inside.


Urban Green said...

Me too...
This sounds familiar. I hated spinach, peas and ridge gourd as a kid. Today, I relish a meal which has it all.
Really liked your post. My dad is majorly into cauli and cabbage farming. I'll pass your blog's link to him. Thanks for posting.

Lanie said...

The two vegetables in this category for me are cauliflower and brussel sprouts. I love both of these baked in a bit of olive oil. BTW - any ideas on my avocado problems (brown leaf tips)?

Anonymous said...

Sounds interesting, Jamie. This won't work in my house since I've still got a few fussy eaters to push out of the nest. I agree that the plants are very ornamental. They look really nice neighboring your true greens.