The Most Underrated Vegetable, According To Ina Garten

When Ina Garten speaks, the culinary world listens — and for good reason. The cookbook author and host of "Barefoot Contessa" is one of the most lauded and relatable kitchen personalities in America and beyond. So when she calls something underrated, you can bet it won't stay that way for long. In this case, she draws attention to the humble cauliflower. 

In one of her many books, this one titled "Cook Like a Pro," she calls cauliflower, the cruciferous cousin to broccoli and kale, highly under-appreciated and gives it a big bite of well-deserved love. As only Garten can do, that love comes from simply elevating the vegetable into a mouthwatering recipe. Fortunately, she does so in a characteristically approachable way — while adding a whole lot of cheesy goodness. The recipe is for her now-famous Cauliflower Toasts.

She also tosses in a few cutting tips and some unexpected ingredients — think nutmeg, prosciutto, and three (yes, divinely three) types of cheeses. Creamy dairy aside, cauliflower, in the hands of the beloved Barefoot Contessa, finally gets its due kudos for carrying a stunning amount of health-enhancing attributes. WebMD notes generous amounts of vitamins, minerals, fiber, cell-protecting folate, and more tucked inside cauliflower, making Garten's Cauliflower Toast recipe a keeper for your culinary arsenal of deliciousness. 

Cauliflower the Ina Garten way

Before diving into Garten's recipe, it helps to freshen your perspective on the taste, texture, and versatility of the often-overlooked cauliflower. We naively think it's just a rough cluster of pale-white florets that soften in boiling water or steam. But cauliflower actually comes in colorful hues such as green, orange, and purple hues as well, giving it a bit more nuance off the bat. But they all inherently taste pretty much the same, touching the tastebuds with hints of mild nutty flavor and a tad of sweetness. Garten notes how perfectly cauliflower browns when roasted, as well as how it can replace cream in soups to achieve a velvety texture.

That makes cauliflower the perfect centerpiece of Ina Garten's Cauliflower Toast bites. The mixture ultimately sits atop crispy slices of country-style bread, also called farmer's bread. So choose a handmade artisan bread if available, preferably a hearty variety such as rustic whites, French pain de campagne, Italian pagnotta, or similar bread from local bakeries.

Accompanying the cauliflower in Garten's recipe treasure chest is olive oil, ground nutmeg, julienned prosciutto, flaked sea salt, crushed and ground red and black pepper, respectively, and the glorious cheese trio: mascarpone, Gruyère, and freshly grated parmesan. It basically gets tossed together on a sheet pan and roasted in the oven, with the cheeses and flaked salt added separately at the end. 

Garten's cutting technique to save cauliflower fragmenting

A simpler version of Garten's cauliflower devotion, displayed in a YouTube video, involves just cauliflower, salt, and two of the cheeses: parmesan and Gruyère. After roasting and melting the cheese, it all gets sprinkled with chopped parsley. Garten admits a former dislike for cauliflower — until she discovered roasting it. She also unveils her trick for cutting cauliflower, which reduces the chance of crumbly bits filling your kitchen counter. 

First, turn the cauliflower upside down and cut out the core with a small knife, leaving the florets accessible. Once separated into individual florets, here's the tip: to cut the floret in half, don't do it from the top. Instead, cut the stem of each floret in half, starting at the top and sliding the knife down the stem vertically. That makes it easy to simply break the entire floret in half, keeping it intact and leaving little-to-no mess. 

Garten ends her cauliflower video by noting how our grandmothers cooked vegetables such as cauliflower until they were soft and mushy instead of the more recent practice of blanching and eating them crisp. But she advocates for returning to former kitchen wisdom. She states that once you start roasting vegetables, like cauliflower, you never go back, ending up with the most delicious vegetables you can imagine.