Grandma Sue loved purple.

She wore amethyst earrings and a huge amethyst ring. She owned purple suits and purple heels. She bought a home in Carthage, MO, that had purple carpeting and a purple bathroom.

I am my grandma’s girl. I grew up in a purple bedroom with purple shag carpet. Purple beads hung from my door frame. I wore a purple velour dress for my senior high school picture and inherited Grandma’s purple earrings and purple ring.

Today — all grown up — I own a purple couch:

purple decor

Purple table linens:

purple tablecloth

And purple glassware:

purple glassware

Imagine my euphoria, then, when I spotted this at my grocery store:

purple cauliflower2

Purple cauliflower!

Cauliflower comes in a rainbow of hues these days. According to the University of Arizona, the purple variety was discovered a few decades ago when farmers noticed an anomaly in their usual lily-white fields. Captivated by the natural accident, they began to breed the lilac heads.

Like its white cousin, purple cauliflower is rich in fiber, Vitamin C, magnesium and folate. But it also boasts high levels of anthocyanin, the same antioxidant that gives red wine, red cabbage and blueberries their purple hues. Anthocyanin helps stabilize the capillary walls that keep toxins out of the body’s cells.

Given my passion for purple, buying a head of violet cauliflower was a no-brainer. But what to do with it? My usual treatment — in a soup, mashed with potatoes or whirred into a puree — would never pass muster with the boys and their dad.

But in a roast? That might be the ticket to getting my family to try the vibrant florets.

veggie trio2I had a head of fennel in the vegetable bin and a basketful of sweet onions. Using a recipe from an old Bon Appetit cookbook, I sliced the fennel and onions into long strands and cut the cauliflower into large chunks. I sauteed each in olive oil, tossed them together in a casserole dish, then roasted them for 25 minutes at 425 degrees.

The melange emerged burnished and bright. The fennel and onions had a rich, caramel flavor; the purple cauliflower was crisper and more floral than its white counterpart, with none of the sulfur taste that can turn some people off of the vegetable. This dish would have been delicious on its own, as a vegetarian entree. For us, it was a perfect companion to Melissa Clark’s mustard roasted chicken.

Purple cauliflower has earned a recurring place in our dinner repertoire.

I think Grandma Sue would be proud.

Roasted Cauliflower With Fennel & Onions

(Adapted from The Flavors Of Bon Appetit 2008)

purple dish

If you overcook purple cauliflower, it turns green. No worries, though. It’s still delicious … and striking in color!

  • 1 medium head of cauliflower
  • 1 pound fennel
  • 1 large sweet onion
  • 6 tablespoons of olive oil

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Grease a rimmed baking sheet.

Cut the cauliflower into florets and set aside.

Cut the fennel in half lengthwise, then cut each half into 1/2-inch-wide wedges, leaving some of the core attached. Set aside.

Cut the onion in half lengthwise, then cut each half into 1/2-inch-wide strips, again leaving some of the core attached. Set aside.

Toss the cauliflower with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cauliflower and saute until slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer the cauliflower to the prepared baking sheet.

Add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet. Add the fennel wedges, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and saute until they begin to soften and turn brown, about 5 minutes. Move to the baking sheet.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet. Add the onion wedges. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook about 3 minutes, until browned on one side. Transfer the onions to the baking sheet, then roast everything for 25 minutes, until the veggies are soft and caramelized. Serve alone or as a side dish.