This week’s market find resembles a specimen harvested from a coral reef. Floral, knobby, and chartreuse in color, this head of cruciferous vegetable has been described by the New York Times dining column as “the lovechild of cauliflower and broccoli with some alien DNA thrown in.” What is it really? Romanesco, a member of the cabbage family that has been grown in Italy since the 1600s. Its odd appearance can be attributed to the numerous florets, which grow in a Fibonacci series, i.e. a sequence where each new number is the sum of the previous two integers (or, as defined by my CS major suite-mate, “0 1 1 2 3 5 8 13…”). This pattern, also known as the golden spiral, occurs rather frequently in nature, such as in artichokes or pinecones.
In addition to its abnormal shape, Romanesco has somewhat of a unique flavor, somewhere between cauliflower and broccoli. It is neither as bland as the former, nor is sharp as latter. In fact, Romanesco is referred to interchangeably as “Romanesco broccoli” and “Romanesco cauliflower,” or on the rare occasion, “Romanesco cabbage.” Its nutritional value is also similar to that of cauliflower or broccoli, though it contains less fiber and more carotene and is purportedly easier to digest. None of that pesky flatulence typically associated with cruciferous vegetables.
With all these weird qualities, you might think that preparing Romanesco is somewhat tricky. Actually, the exact opposite is the case — it holds up better in stir-fry, steaming, or roasting than its cousin veggies. Where broccoli is prone to fall apart or cauliflower to turn to mush, Romanesco holds its own, especially if you cut along the base of the floret, maintaining its natural shape. (This method of cutting out each floret independently is also visually appealing, as they maintain their unique cone-shape for presentation.)
Romanesco can be prepared many ways, but is best served simply and with light seasonings. Its light taste is a good complement to fish dishes or grain-based meals such as quinoa, risotto, or fried rice. The recipe below is a simple variation on steamed Romanesco:
Greek Romanesco Salad
2 cups cooked couscous
1 head Romanesco, steamed and chopped into florets*
1/4 cup sliced olives (I prefer Kalamata)
3 oz. feta cheese
2 T chopped capers
1-2 T lemon juice
1 T fresh tarragon
dash of E.V.O.O.
salt and pepper to taste
*To steam the Romanesco, place the entire head — leaves and base removed — into a covered pot with 1 inch or water or broth (I used a Miso-Ginger soup base). Steam for about 15 minutes, or until a fork can be easily stuck in to the base of the tongs. In a jiffy, this can be done in about 5 minutes in the microwave, in a large bowl covered with plastic wrap and 1/2 inch of water at the base.
Directions: Quite simply, cook and combine the couscous and Romanesco, adding the other ingredients and tossing the salad to thoroughly distribute the ingredients. This also makes a great cold salad, if placed in the fridge and saved for a later day.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Servings: about 2