I’m sure this vegetable has been written about 10,000 times already, by packs of roaming bloggers, but when I first saw these beauties at the farmers market this weekend, I did a double take. The cauliflower florets looked like they were made out of orange Play-Doh.

I had to ask the representative from Glenville Hollow Farms about the cauliflower. Was it a hybrid of some sort? What purpose does it serve? Does it taste like cauliflower dipped in cheddar cheese?

The employee had limited knowledge but noted that the cauliflower was first believed to grow wild in Canada before it became cultivated. It tastes no different, he said, than regular white cauliflower though it has more beta carotene than the standard stuff.  Which is bad news, I suppose, for those remaining smokers out there.

But at the very least, I thought the cheddar cauliflower would make for a colorful presentation in one of my favorite soups, Pasta and Cauliflower Soup Federica, a recipe for which I clipped out of the now-defunct Gourmet magazine in 2003.  The recipe is after the jump. Ignore the call for Romanesco cauliflower and go for the cheddar version instead.

Pasta and Cauliflower Soup Federica

Adapted from executive chef Paul Bartolotta, Ristorante Bartolotta, Milwaukee

Note: Romanesco cauliflower — with its cone-shaped florets — has a more subtle, nuanced flavor than traditional varieties. The size of Romanesco cauliflower can vary widely, so we call for weight in this recipe rather than number of heads.

2 qts chicken stock

1 tsp fine sea salt

2 1/2 lbs cauliflower, cut into 1-inch-wide florets

1/4 lb spaghetti, broken into roughly 1  1/4-inch pieces

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (preferably Sicilian)

2 oz. finely grated Pecorino (preferably Sicilian) or Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 cup)

  • Bring stock to a boil in a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot over high heat and add sea salt and pepper to taste.
  • Stir in cauliflower and simmer, covered, until just tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in pasta and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until al dente, 10 to 15 minutes (pasta takes longer to cook in stock than in water).
  • Stir in sea salt to taste and serve soup drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with cheese.