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Delicious Cauliflower Leaves in Italian Tomato Sauce Recipe

Penelope has three grandchildren, two girls and one boy- so far. They have beautiful names! She writes stories and she tells them stories.

Cauliflower Leaves in Italian Tomato Sauce

Cauliflower leaves in Italian tomato sauce

Cauliflower leaves in Italian tomato sauce

Cauliflower Leaves in Italian Tomato Sauce Recipe

How Italians Eat Green Vegetables

Until just recently I've specifically chosen a cauliflower which has fewer leaves than other cauliflowers at the markets, aiming for the big white flower part of the vegetable, (thinking the green leaves would be a waste of money).

This all changed recently when I saw a container of very small cauliflower heads nestling among their bright green leaves, lots of green leaves, at a local open vegetable stand in Tuscany where I live. I bought one with all its leaves attached and this time decided to make a vegetable dish with the leaves.

One of the favorite ways to eat green vegetables in our Italian household, as in other Italian homes is to make them 'in umido', (which means 'braised in tomato sauce'). Bitter greens such as black cabbage and chard are extremely palatable this way. So why not cauliflower leaves? I experimented whilst the leaves were still fresh and green; all their goodness and nutrition intact. And it was a success.

Here is my recipe for delicious cauliflower leaves in Italian tomato sauce made with extra virgin olive oil. (And also with the cauliflower florets). It is a delicious way to prepare this humble green!

Cauliflower with Briased Cauliflower Leaves, a Tasty Side Dish

Cauliflower with cauliflower leaves in an Italian tomato sauce, 'in umido'

Cauliflower with cauliflower leaves in an Italian tomato sauce, 'in umido'

Cook Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

10 min

45 min

55 min

Serves four people

One whole cauliflower

One whole cauliflower

Chop off the hard stem at the base

Chop off the hard stem at the base

Chop up  washed leaves

Chop up washed leaves

Mix the greens in with  the onions in oil

Mix the greens in with the onions in oil

Mix in the tomato sauce  and braise.

Mix in the tomato sauce and braise.


  • 1 whole cauliflower, with its leaves
  • 300 grams tomato sauce
  • 1/4 -1/2 onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon chilli pepper (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • pinch salt

Instructions how to Cook the Greens and Make them with Tomato Sauce

  1. Chop off the very hard core at the base of the cauliflower, and discard
  2. Separate the leaves from the cauliflower
  3. Wash them, drain
  4. Slice the leaves and steam them, (or boil in a pan in 1 litre salted water) till the stem has softened. If you like well cooked greens, then cook them well. If you like them on the crispy side, then cook them less.
  5. Boil and strain the cauliflower in salted water whilst you make the sauce.
  6. Drain the leaves HOLDING BACK A CUP OF VEG WATER and set aside while you make the tomato sauce
  7. For the tomato sauce: finely chop the onion.
  8. In a medium sized frying pan: add the extra virgin olive oil the onion the chilli and cook until the onion is transparent
  9. Add the cooked cauliflower leaves, stir and cook together for a few minutes
  10. Add the tomato sauce, mix together and cook on moderate heat for about 20 minutes. Add the vegetable water. Mix and stir. Keep covered.
  11. The greens in the sauce are cooked when the tomato sauce has condensed but not too thickly. (Usually when little bubbles appear in the sauce)
  12. Serve hot in a serving dish with or without the cauliflower

Braised Cauliflower Leaves in Tomato Sauce - In Umido

Braised cauliflower leaves - 'in umido'

Braised cauliflower leaves - 'in umido'

Knife and Block for Vegetable Cookery

Serve with Pork Chops as a Main Meal

Pork chops

Pork chops

Served as a Meal or Side Dish

Braised cauliflower leaves in an Italian tomato sauce ('in umido') can be served as a whole vegetarian meal, made pretty and doubly delicious with it's white cauliflower florets. Drizzle a little more extra virgin olive oil over the florets.

  • You could toast some thick slices of bread, put a slice at the bottom of each serving dish and serve the greens on top (the tomato sauce needs to be more liquid for this.)
  • You could also serve it as a side dish next grilled meats, (which don't have sauce) and baked potato, or french fries.
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  • A poached or fried egg on the top with some hot crusty bread makes it a tasty supper dish.

NOTE: If you like hot and spicy, then add more chilli. It is very, very good hot.

  • If you are serving small children then go lightly with pepper, obviously. A sprinkling of cheese on the top makes it tastier to children and will encourage them to eat their greens.

Terra Cotta Serving Dishes

Tips for Preparing in Advance

You can make this dish ahead of time (1 day even) and reheat.

If this is your plan, then keep another cup of greens juice to add to the braised vegetables for re-heating.

You can re-heat in the oven in a casserole dish with a lid so that it's out of the way but also a surprise when it is served - and looks great in a rustic dish. (See the ad).

It tastes good with hot bread.

Sausages are perfect with it too.

© 2012 Penelope Hart


Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on March 18, 2013:

I know! It was such a fantastic discovery for me too. So glad you like this and thanks so much for such an expressive comment.


Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 18, 2013:

I don't believe you can actually use the cauliflower leaves, this is so unbelievable, I always throw away the leaves. You have opened my eyes here on cooking with the cauliflower leaves. If only I had known!!!

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on January 16, 2013:

You are most welcome and it's just great of you to come back tell us that it worked out so well. So appreciate your comment, thank you.

Erica J from Seattle, WA on January 16, 2013:

I gave it a try last night and must say it came out fantastic! Thanks for posting.

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on January 07, 2013:

It's very jtrader, thank you. Hope you'll try it out.

jtrader on January 06, 2013:

That looks tasty.

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on January 03, 2013:

Well, that is a compliment coming from you and I do appreciate it wilderness. Thanks so much.

Dan Harmon from Boise, Idaho on January 03, 2013:

You're right, GoodLady - this is different. I've never tried cauliflower leaves, but will have to sample this dish. Undoubtedly another success, coming from you!

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on January 03, 2013:

Appreciate and thank you! Hope your husband likes it! And that your friend who grows things likes it too. I'd never thought of eating them till I tried and can not understand why it hasn't taken off before now. Why chop off the leaves? And throw them away? it doesn't make any sense. They are delicious!

Judi Brown from UK on January 03, 2013:

Beautiful photos Penelope! Like most people who've commented, it's never occurred to me to use the leaves! My husband is veggie, so we'll try it out. I'll also mention it to one of my friends who is a commercial grower - I'll bet she's never tried it either!

Pinned and shared.

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on January 03, 2013:

Hope you really enjoy it! Wishing you a very Happy New Year Lisa and many thanks for your happy comment here.

Liz Rayen from California on January 02, 2013:

This looks simply amazing. I love cauliflower, but the recipe is so enticing! I can't wait to try this. thank you so much for sharing this! ---Happy New Year!---Lisa

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on December 07, 2012:

Not sure if they are actually better for you than the flower but they are green and fresh they must be full of goodness.


Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on December 07, 2012:

I never thought about it either!!! Why was that? Seems bizarre now.

GiblinGirl from New Jersey on December 07, 2012:

I never thought to eat the leaves of a cauliflower, but this sounds pretty tasty.

Angie Jardine from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... on December 07, 2012:

Wow, Penelope … what a comprehensive hub! I have not tried this yet but I will.

I always use cauliflower leaves … they look so much better for you than the rest of the cauli :)


Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on December 06, 2012:

Om P. Next time you see a fresh cauliflower with lovely green leaves, I hope you'll feel like trying it out!

BlossomSB. How do you make your cauliflower leaves? They'd be nice even steamed with some olive oil wouldn't they?

Thank you so much for your comments, which are appreciated.

Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on December 06, 2012:

I often use cauliflower leaves as a green vegetable as it seems such a waste to just throw them into the compost, but this recipe looks great and I will be trying it soon.

Om Paramapoonya on December 06, 2012:

Looks yummy! I've never cooked with cauliflower leaves before. I'll bookmark this and put it on my kitchen adventure to-do list!

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on December 06, 2012:

Thanks so much for your votes Cathy. Hope you thoroughly enjoy this interesting, modest vegetable dish.

Claudia Tello. Weird how they don't sell the leaves. Wonder what they do with them, maybe they make animal food or something. I can't believe they'd throw them away? Thanks for sharing.

Claudia Tello from Mexico on December 05, 2012:

In Mexico cauliflower is sold without leaves and I didn´t even knew how they look and that they are edible! What a waste.... it is really ridiculous that producers should throw away such a big part of the vegetable that could be used. Same happens with beetroot leaves, and they are so beautiful!

Anyway, I learned something new today with your hub :).

Ms. Immortal from NJ on December 05, 2012:

This looks great, I never had cauliflower leaves before but will definitely try it.

Voted up!

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on December 05, 2012:

chef-de-jour Your spincai con sultanas (uvetta) sounds like a Sicilian dish and I'll look it up - try it out. Thanks for suggesting it and for your comment too. Appreciated.

Crystal Tatum. Many thanks for your votes and shares and I do hope you will enjoy this delicious dish! It is tasty, for sure.

carol7777. So nice of you to comment and votes and I do appreciate it. Buon appetito when you make this cauliflower leaves dish.

carol stanley from Arizona on December 05, 2012:

i will never throw away cauliflower leaves again. This looks really good and worthy of a vote UP and a share.

Crystal Tatum from Georgia on December 05, 2012:

Yum! I've never had cauliflower leaves - never occurred to me! This looks delicious, a dish I definitely want to try. Voted up and shared.

Andrew Spacey from Sheffield, UK on December 05, 2012:

Interesting dish - green leaves from vegetables such as cauliflowers are often thrown away (or composted hopefully) but with your Italian knowhow you've transformed them. A clever and healthy alternative. This reminds me of a side dish I had some years ago - again Italian I think - spinaci con sultanas - well, cooked in olive oil and like your tomatoe based collies delicious!

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