Many French kings went by the name Louis. The name means famous warrior. The moniker worked for many of the kings of France, but by the time the name came down to Louis XV, the French had just about had it with the idea of an absolute monarchy.
While Louis XV did little to popularize the notion of the divine right of kings, he was a great lover of cauliflower and is perhaps rightfully credited with bringing that heavily flowered vegetable cousin of the cabbage to its culinary high point in history.
Even today if you see the name “Du Barry” on a French menu—such as crème Du Barry—you can be assured that cauliflower figures into the recipe. (You see, the Countess Du Barry was Louis’ favorite mistress and she shared her love for everything cauliflower with the king and his court.)
These day the royal passion for cauliflower may be history, but it can truly be said that cauliflower is one of those vegetables that can do it all. Cauliflower florets—sometimes called “the curd”–can be eaten raw, baked, boiled, steamed, roasted, french-fried and stir-fried. They can also be sautéed and pureed after cooking.
Cauliflower, like the tomato and corn, is at its tastiest just after harvest. If you eat your cauliflower within a day or two of picking, that will count as harvest fresh.
Late fall into early winter is a good time to be looking for cauliflower at your local produce stand. Cauliflower takes from 90 to 120 days to reach harvest from planting and requires steady cooling weather to mature evenly. That means the plants set out in late summer are now coming to harvest.
Fresh cauliflower should taste mildly sweet or nutty and have a delicate crumbly crunch. Raw cauliflower should not be chewy or squeaky when you bite into it. As for cooked, if the cauliflower you are eating tastes “strong” or has a cabbagey smell then it probably is not fresh or has been cooked too long. In short, if you think of cauliflower the way Louis XV did, it should be in all ways elegant to the senses.
When selecting cauliflower, look for heads that are creamy white. The curds or florets of fresh cauliflower should be compact and tight. One way to test for freshness is to snap the leaves that surround the head at their midribs. If there is a “snap”, the head is fresh. Avoid heads that are discolored or spotted. If the stem of a cauliflower head is dry or discolored, the head is not fresh.
Three flowerets of raw cauliflower (about 2 oz) contain 14 calories, 12 calories cooked.
Since you want to enjoy your cauliflower at its freshest like a tomato or ear of corn, why not place the young, white florets raw on a salad or savor them with a mustard- or curry-flavored dip.
As for crème Du Barry, the delicious creamed cauliflower soup: why not try the countess’ own recipe, sautéed florets served in a rich sauce made with veal, ham and cream.