I like the edible parts of everything. I have a particular commitment, though, to the underappreciated leaves and hearts of cauliflower and cabbage. Both are classified, taxonomically, as cruciferous vegetables. I think my feeling so tender toward them might have to do with wanting to show support after they’d gotten stung with that somewhat nefarious sounding name.
Both vegetables' cores and tough outer leaves can be simply cut more finely than their florets or inner leaves and cooked alongside. I often cook them separately—it's nice to get a little more boiled cauliflower or sautéed cabbage; it's even nicer to get two separate dishes out of either, taking real advantage of the slightly starchy cores and the sweet outer leaves.
Warm cabbage core stew: Think of cabbage cores as potatoes that have been ingeniously and delicately infused with horseradish and treat them accordingly. The slight smart in fresh cabbage is bold in its core when raw, but mellows out when heated. It cooks like a potato, and any lamb or beef stew in particular would benefit from having some of its potato supplanted by large diced cabbage core.
Cabbage core-potato puree: Try making a sweeter, “greener” version mashed potatoes. Cook cubed potatoes until they're completely tender in well-salted water. Cook diced cabbage cores separately in a little butter and just enough water to help them steam until they’re tender. Press the potato through a ricer or mash it in a bowl. Puree the cabbage and butter in a food processor, add a big handful of chopped chives, and combine, mixing lightly. Add more butter, salt to taste, and a drizzle of cream if you like.
Cauliflower core and leaf toasts: Cauliflower cores and leaves make a rich topping for crisp toasts. Bring a pot of water to boil and salt it very well. Chop your cores and slice leaves finely. Boil the leaves until they're tender, about 5 minutes, then add the core. When both are easy to pierce with the tip of a knife, put them in a bowl and mash them up, letting them keep some texture. Add plenty of freshly grated Parmesan cheese—I use nearly as much cheese as I have core and leaf mash. Add a good drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, and some very finely chopped garlic. Serve on thick, crisp toast.
Cauliflower leaf and rosemary sauté: This is a lot like a French preparation of buttery, bright, just barely cooked Brussels sprouts, another—newly well-loved—crucifer. You’ll need the leaves from more than one cauliflower. A good substitute, should you not be making cauliflower for an army, is the outer leaves of cabbage, or the leaves from a head of broccoli. Slice any and all very, very thinly. They should be elegant and ribbonlike and as frivolous looking as possible. Add a few tablespoons of butter to a hot pan, then add a hearty pinch of roughly chopped fresh rosemary. Once the rosemary has begun to sizzle, add a few handfuls of julienned leaves and a pinch of salt. Cook until they're just, just tender, allowing them to keep some texture and stay bright green.
Core tempura: Thinly slice the cores of either vegetable into uneven triangles. Put flour in a bowl. Add just enough seltzer to make a paste, then let the mixture sit for an hour. Add a pinch of salt and a little more ice-cold seltzer, until the batter has the consistency of heavy cream. Heat enough grape seed or peanut oil to fully submerge a few pieces at a time until a drop of the batter sizzles immediately when dropped in. Dip the pert pieces of core a few at a time, and fry until crisp. Sprinkle with salt and eat hot.