Mark Twain observed that the cauliflower is a cabbage with a college education. This was not just a quip. Cauliflower is a member of the cabbage family, Cruciferae, so-named because of their cross-shaped flowers. Indeed, it is a member of the same genus, Brassica, and the same species, oleracea, as cabbage. To distinguish these cultivars, cabbage is further classified in the Capitata group and cauliflower in the Botrytis group.* Twain, despite his lack of college education, must have known about this taxonomic connection, as did the people in France and Spain, whose words for cauliflower, chou-fleur and coliflor, translate literally as cabbage flower. Cauliflower itself obviously contains the same Romance root for cabbage, which also surfaces in Coleslaw.
If you look closely at a cauliflower, you will see outer green leaves that are essentially cabbage leaves. In the field, they are wrapped around the plant’s flower so that it will not receive light from the sun and turn the developing “curd” green. This milky curd is the flower of cauliflower. Actually, there are green varieties in the market (broccoflower) and even an orange one with enhanced vitamin A. But the white cauliflower is the classic and overwhelmingly prevalent type.
It is nutritionally excellent and also low in calories and cholesterol. The curd, moreover, is a fractal, which is to say that its flowerets are indistinguishable from the whole curd except in scale.
*It is not, however, related to the beneficial fungus Botrytis cinerea, which grows on late-harvest grapes and improves their flavor. In the vineyards of Sauternes, where it is rife, this Botrytis is known as the noble rot, la pourriture noble.