How to Cook Caulilini—The Cauliflower Variety You Never Knew You Needed
Have you met cauliflower’s baby sibling yet?
Roughly twenty years ago, Mann’s, a Cali-based vegetable producer owned by Del Monte, delivered broccolini unto to the world. Also known as “baby broccoli,” the long, slender stalks bearing delicate florets (which make it feel more like broccoli’s so-cool, impossibly graceful older cousin than an infant version of the cruciferous veggie) took markets by storm. Broccolini, a non-GMO hybrid of broccoli and Chinese kale, grew so ubiquitous that most consumers have virtually no idea that the vegetable’s name is a registered trademark of Mann’s.
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Fast forward a couple of decades, and we now have the Mann’s baby iteration of cauliflower, one of the wellness world’s most darling veggies, making its way to supermarket shelves. Caulilini—strongly resembling broccolini in its build—has petite, creamy colored florets, an elongated pale green stalk, and a gently sweet flavor. Besides the lovely jumbo baby’s breath-like appearance of this elegant “new” member of the brassica family, one of caulilini’s major appeals is how tender the vegetable is. That's particularly true in the stalk, meaning you don’t need to “trim” off half the vegetable to convince the kids (or yourself, no judgement) to eat it.
Unlike broccolini, caulilini’s lineage is 100 percent cauliflower and does not involve hybridization with another cruciferous vegetable, according to Mann’s. Another distinction between the two baby brassicas is that caulilini grows in heads, while broccolini grows as single stalks. That said, despite their subtle differences, you can treat caulilini much the same as you would broccolini when it comes down to cooking and eating.
Though it may not boast the ability to transform into a sub for steak or pizza crust (which honestly, is quite alright), caulilini can be enjoyed raw or blanched as a part of a crudite platter, or cooked by any number of methods—grilling, sauteing, roasting, you name it.
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Now, if you’re saying to yourself, “Sounds swell, but I’ve definitely never seen anything like this in my grocery store’s produce section,” there’s a reason. The veggie was initially made available only to Mann’s foodservice clients; thus, many folks first encountered caulilini on restaurant menus rather than supermarket shelves. So while caulilini is just now making its way into consumer’s grocery carts, the veggie has been available to chefs for over a year. And that’s exactly why we turned to a handful of caulilini-enthused chefs for input on how best to prepare it:
Chef Rob Newton, Executive Chef
Gray & Dudley | Nashville, TN
“At Gray & Dudley, we blanch caulilini in salted water, then shock it in ice water. We then dry it out and season it with olive oil and a little salt, then char it on the grill. From there you can add lettuces, your favorite dressing or even fresh lemon or lime. Chopped herbs like basil or cilantro are a nice touch.”
Chef Macks Collins, Co-Owner and Chef
Piccalilli | Culver City, CA (Opening Fall 2019)
“We love using caulilini in our woks! The tender stem works really well over high heat cooking methods and the little florets and stems brown really nicely. Our favorite recipe to make with caulilini is piccalilli, which is our restaurant name. We take the florets off the steam and do a mustard-style pickle. The crispiness of the caulilini florets responds perfectly to the pickling process.”
Chef Perry Pollaci, Executive Chef
Castaway | Burbank, CA
“I absolutely love caulilini and incorporate it into a few dishes at the Chef’s Table here at Castaway. My favorite way to serve this vegetable is charred. I do a hard char on it with grapeseed oil (it has a high smoking point), garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and cayenne pepper. The dish is finished off with sherry vinaigrette and fresh parsley. For those that are making this at home, it’s ideal to roast it in a high-heat pan, like a cast iron, to develop a really nice char.”
Brandon Thordarson, Corporate Executive Chef
Moxie’s Grill & Bar | Plano, TX
“When cooking Caulilini, I put olive oil, sea salt and black pepper on it, tossed to coat, then grilled on the BBQ. I love it when you get some black char onto it and either serve hot as a side or use it cold in a salad. Think Caesar Salad with grilled Caulilini.”
Diego Burgos, Culinary Director
Michael Jordan’s Steak House | Uncasville, CT (Mohegan Sun)
“Caulilini is a fun unique way to enjoy cauliflower, which has become a super trendy vegetable, and goes well not only as a component to a vegetable entree, but as a cool side dish as well. Pair it with broccolini to contrast colors, and make an eye popping dish. We serve a vegan Daikon Radish Steak with garlic caulilini and broccolini and a ragu rustica.”
Burgos's favorite way to prepare caulilini:
- Get a pot of boiling water going. Add sea salt until it's as salty as the ocean, or good pasta water.
- Get a bowl of ice water ready as well.
- Place pieces of caulilini in the boiling water to quickly cook, about 2-3 minutes. Then immediately place in ice water to halt the cooking process, leaving the vegetable crisp and full of color.
- In a medium sized saute pan, heat and add EVOO. When hot, add some chopped garlic, and lightly brown.
- Add caulilini and toss with oil and garlic until hot, season with fresh cracked pepper.