Cauliflower Credit: Newsday/Ken Spencer

Likely you think of lobster or a juicy steak as a luxury, but cauliflower? Yet, in its own way, cauliflower is a Long Island luxury, one with a proud history.

"Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education," goes the oft-quoted witticism from Mark Twain. Cauliflower is, in fact, a kind of mutant of cabbage.

Historically and up until the 1950s, Long Island was nearly as famous for cauliflower as for duck and for potatoes. When the Long Island Cauliflower Association held auctions for crates of cauliflower, and trucks bringing it to market lined up as much as a mile away from the auction barn, it could sell for as much as $24 for a 12-head crate. The live auctions, which were also big social events for farmers, ended in 1988. Today, the association continues, based in Riverhead, selling seeds, fertilizer and the like, but no cauliflower.

The bumpy-looking vegetable is still available at farm stands, though, and I think of it as a treat because those who must depend on supermarkets can't easily buy the handsome specimens I purchase from Farmer Dan's stand in Calverton. Jonathan Sujecki raises several acres of it on 27 acres he rents from landowner/farmer Dan Donahue.

Yet another reason it's a luxury is the work involved; Sujecki, 24, bands the cauliflower (ties the leaves up around the heads) by hand and, he said, "It's hard on your back, that's for sure."

Then, too, seeds for some of the new colorful varieties of cauliflower are surprisingly expensive. Mike Horn, seed inventory control manager at the cauliflower association, said that 1/16 of an ounce of Cheddar, the orange variety, is $41.24; Graffiti, which is purple, is $29.82 for the same amount. And Fremont, which grows in such a way that the farmer does not have to hand-wrap it, is $31.90. (Sujecki said some of the varieties work out to 21 cents a seed.) Compare that to ¼ ounce of Sorrento fall broccoli rabe, $1.85 for ¼ ounce.

Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, estimated that there may be only 100 to 150 acres grown now on the Island.

Get it while you can, at $2.50 a head, and treasure the chance.




Roasted cauliflower


Some recipes call for roasting garlic along with the cauliflower or adding other spices. To be sure, cauliflower takes well to curry, yogurt and cilantro in curries and braises. But I love the flavor roasting brings out in cauliflower without additives, as in this simple recipe. If you like, sprinkle on some grated cheese at the end and run under the broiler until it melts.

1 large head cauliflower, trimmed and separated into fairly uniform florets

3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil

Sea salt, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. On a half-sheet pan or in a casserole, toss florets with olive oil and salt, coating well. Spread florets out on pan without crowding.

2. Roast in oven for about 25 minutes or until cauliflower is tender and can easily be pierced with a fork, turning once or twice during roasting. Makes 4 side-dish servings.