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updated: 8/7/2013 7:51 AM

Unearthing the beauty of cauliflower

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  • Chef Rodelio Aglibot serves curried cauliflower purée to guests at e+o restaurant in Mount Prospect.

       Chef Rodelio Aglibot serves curried cauliflower purée to guests at e+o restaurant in Mount Prospect.
    Dave Dvorak | Staff Photographer

  • Cauliflower takes on vibrant flavors in a stewlike Red Thai Curry from Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman's "The Four Season Farm Gardener's Cookbook."

      Cauliflower takes on vibrant flavors in a stewlike Red Thai Curry from Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman's "The Four Season Farm Gardener's Cookbook."
    Courtesy Workman

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Gardeners and cooks wax poetic about tomatoes boasting raisin-colored stripes and bumpy shapes and zucchini stretching out beneath their golden blooms, but you rarely hear anyone talk with that same passion about cauliflower.

Cauliflower is the wallflower of the garden ball, its common white variety barely noticeable among the verdant beans, rainbow-hued peppers and glossy eggplants.

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But just like that wallflower, once you get to know her, you love her.

"I grew up eating cauliflower -- cauliflower gratin and fried cauliflower," said chef Rodelio Aglibot of the acclaimed e+o restaurant in Mount Prospect.

Yet sometimes cauliflower needs a makeover, like the kind that turned Olivia Newton-John from a naive bobby-sockser into a leather-clad vixen in "Grease."

"As a chef, I love it because it's very versatile; it takes on (other) flavors very easily," Aglibot said.

At e+o, he turns cauliflower into a silky purée boldly spiced with turmeric and coriander. The purée, he said, was inspired by the Indian dish aloo gobi and pairs well with any white fish.

"Wonderful as cauliflower is, with its mild cabbage-y flavor, it sometimes needs a little perking up," agrees famed garden expert Eliot Coleman, co-author of "The Four Season Farm Gardener's Cookbook" (2013 Workman).

"We love to serve the golden variety ... but even the usual white kind gets a boost from brown butter and toasted pine nuts."

Wait, there's a golden variety?

Yes, there is, as well as purple, orange and a funky green variety called Romanesco.

"This fall we are growing purple, green and cheddar (orange). We try to grow unusual varieties of common plants," says Big Bowl Executive Chef Marc Bernard, who pulls double duty at Rustic Road Farm.

"Everyone knows cauliflower (most don't like it), but the combination of the cool colors and interesting preparation make cauliflower more appealing."

Cauliflower belongs to the cruciferous family of vegetables, along with cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, turnips, mustards, radishes and kohlrabi.

Cauliflower contains less sugar than potatoes (another reason chef Aglibot likes to use it) and contains cancer protective glucosinolates such as indoles and isothiocyanates. As Rolling Meadows-based dietitian Marie Dini points out, it has high amounts of fiber, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and magnesium.

"I like cauliflower because it is like a blank canvas that is good raw, steamed, roasted or even mashed like potatoes," said Dini, who shares a favorite recipe today for a cheesy cauliflower and sausage soup. "I personally like mine cooked more mushy with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese."

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