Smile Politely

Romanesco yields a hidden gem

Some people think it looks alien, some artful, some mathematical — fractal to be exact. Whatever you think about its appearance, it’s hard not to like Romanesco once you taste it. More tender than broccoli, sweeter than cauliflower, and that amazing chartreuse color — what’s not to love?

Romanesco is a variant of cauliflower, but is not a modern broccoflower hybrid. It is actually an Italian vegetable that dates back to the 1500s. In Italy, there are multitudes of ways of cooking it, but outside of Italy most people simply steam it and eat it like broccoli.

Like its relatives, Romanesco is best when cooked slightly crisp or just tender. Over cooking it produces the off-putting broccoli smell of a late 70s grade school cafeteria. That said, it is far more forgiving than its cauliflower and broccoli relatives, which is another reason to love it.

Raw or slightly steamed, Romanesco makes a great crudite. Or, use it in the classic Italian olive oil “fondue” bagna cauda. Toss a couple of cups of Romanesco florets in with your pasta during the last couple of minutes of cooking. Then toss the works with a little olive oil, parmesan, and a few red pepper flakes and you have a very easy, very colorful dinner. Or use it in a simple soup.

Once people try Romanesco, they are usually hooked. It’s getting them to try it in the first place that’s the trick. This season in Prairieland Community Supported Agriculture, I watched multitudes of people pass over baby Romanescos in favor of more familiar broccoli and cauliflower. However, as more and more began to try it over the course of the season, it was frequently the first to be snatched from the crates.

Simple preparations that highlight the beautifully shaped florets typically work best like this recipe for Romanesco with Green Olives and capers. If you are looking for something more dramatic, try substituting it in this recipe from Bon Apetit.

At our house we often steam Romanesco florets until tender crisp. Then we place them in a shallow buttered casserole dish and top them with anchovy aioli. You can use this recipe and sub two anchovy filets for the mustard. We then sprinkle on a few bread crumbs and pop it into a 350 degree oven until the bread crumb start to color.

Whatever way you choose to prepare it Romanesco is a great fall-winter vegetable that is a good source of vitamin A and fiber. You can find it on the tables of Blue Moon Farm, Moore Family Farm, and First Fruits during the farmer’s market season. Or, you can find it at Common Ground Food Cooperative in Urbana.

Related Articles