The Cabbage Family: Broccoli, Cauliflower, Romanesco

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
These vegetables are all varieties of cabbage in which the normal development of flower stalks and flowers is arrested, so that the immature flowering tissues proliferate and accumulate into large masses. Based on recent genetic and geographic analysis, it appears that broccoli arose in Italy and in turn gave rise to cauliflower, which was known in Europe by the 16th century.

In the case of broccoli, extra flower-stalk tissue develops, fuses into thick “spears,” and then goes on to produce clusters of small green flower buds. In cauliflower and its interestingly angular, green variant, romanesco, the stalk-production stage is extended indefinitely and forms a dense mass or “curd” of immature flower-stalk branches. Because the curd is developmentally immature, it remains relatively unfibrous and rich in cell-wall pectins and hemicelluloses, and so can be pureed to a very fine, creamy consistency (and if overcooked whole, it readily turns to mush). To get as white a cauliflower curd as possible, growers usually tie the leaves over it to protect it from sunlight, which induces the production of yellowish pigments.