Several years ago an Oxfordshire vegetable farmer asked me to write an article that discussed the merits of fresh British cauliflower, because it was falling out of fashion.

Sadly, nothing has changed. Beautiful, creamy headed cauliflowers bursting with nutrients and flavour are still being shunned in favour of more so called ‘exotic’ vegetables. Indeed, British cauliflower production has slumped by almost a third during the last decade, despite being one of very few vegetables that can be grown in this country throughout the year. What’s more it is probably one of the cheapest vegetables you can buy. It is certainly one of the most versatile.

Perhaps we still carry the image of soggy, waterlogged cauliflower that has had its flavour cooked out of it. Mrs Beeton still has much to answer for. She advised cooking it whole in a pot of boiling salted water for 25 minutes. Although that was more than a century ago, unfortunately such instructions tend to live on. Cauliflower is still regarded as the underdog in the vegetable kingdom, while other brassicas, such as broccoli, are adored for their ‘superfood’ status.

Cauliflower is thought to have originated from ancient Asian Minor and has been an important vegetable in Italy, Turkey and Cyprus. It was introduced into the United Kingdom during the 17th century. Mrs Beeton’s recipe for cauliflower with Parmesan cheese was published in her Book of Household Management of 1861.

Recent studies are now linking cauliflower with cancer prevention and it is an excellent source of Vitamin C, K, B1, B2, B3, manganese and foliate. Its fibre content (almost 12 grams in every 100 calories) makes it a great choice for digestive support. In other words, cauliflower appears to have as much to offer us as the more glamorous vegetables, providing we don’t overcook it.

Duncan Ray, a talented young chef who runs the Five Alls pub in Filkins with his partner Manoli Gonzalez, doesn’t go with the flow. He makes much of cauliflower, considering it a splendid vegetable and one that comes up trumps if you are able to see beyond a white, dumpy vegetable. Boiling it in loads of salted water is not for him.

During the three years he spent working along celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal at the Fat Duck, Bray, before moving into his own kitchen at the Five Alls, Duncan devised fascinating ways of transforming cauliflower into something special.

I particularly like the purée he creates to adorn a dish of scallops or dark venison. He admits the purée takes time to prepare, but the result is superb. Having removed the leaves from the head, which he uses in other dishes, he shaves off the surface with a potato peeler, taking off just the tops of the flowerets, but not the stalks — he says stalks change the flavour considerably. Using best butter he then gently cooks the pieces he has removed until they begin to turn a light fawn colour. On removing it from the pan, reserving the excess butter for something else, he than zaps the fried pieces through a liquidiser with a little milk to make an emulsion which serves as a bed for the main part of the dish.

Sometimes he makes a white cauliflower purée to serve alongside the fawn one for special effect. The leaves are not wasted; he slices them really thin, fries them in hot oil until they turn crunchy — just as the Chinese fry their seaweed — then serves them as a garnish. The residue left from the cauliflower head he then turns into soup, often spicing it up with herbs and spices.

Because Duncan has proved cauliflower is an extremely versatile vegetable, he is as bewildered as I am to hear that it has fallen out of flavour, particularly as it is one of the cheapest vegetables on the market at the moment, often selling for under a pound.

One large cauliflower can provide at least six portions. Spend just a little more on milk and cheddar cheese and you can transform it into a dish of comfort food which is both satisfying and nutritious, especially if it is sprinkled with a grated cheese topping and baked in the cheese sauce until the top is crunchy and golden. Served with crisp bacon, cauliflower cheese must still rate as a popular supper dish.

When buying cauliflower look for a compact curd in which the bud clusters are not separated. If stored in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator it will usually keep for at least a week.