Romanesco appears to be part psychedelic broccoli, part alien life form. I was checking out the produce section of my local Lakewinds store when I saw this unusual "formation", and I had to ask the clerk what the heck this strange vegetable was! Romanesco has to be one of the most unusual vegetables I've come across.
In fact, it’s an edible flower from the family that includes broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. It tastes very similar to cauliflower, but with a slightly nuttier, earthier flavor. You can use it as you would cauliflower in recipes, and it holds up to many different cooking methods.
“Romanesco can be served raw, lightly cooked, or cooked through,” said Mario Batali in a column for the Seattle Times last fall. “I usually sauté it slowly with garlic and lemon zest, and punctuate with red pepper flakes for zing.”
It’s also delicious steamed and lightly seasoned with olive oil and red wine vinegar.
Of course, the most fascinating part of Romanesco is its appearance. Its spiraled buds form a natural approximation of a fractal, meaning each bud in the spiral is composed of a series of smaller buds.
The Romanesco (sometimes called Romanesco Broccoli or Roman Cauliflower) did not always exist in nature. Many botanists believe it was the result of selective breeding by Italian farmers in the 16th century.
Romanesco is in season during from late summer to early fall, and it can often be found at local farmers’ markets. Just as when shopping for regular broccoli or cauliflower, look for firm, heavy heads free from discoloration or withered florets. To store in the fridge, keep in a tightly sealed bag.
Have you tried Romanesco? What did you think? Tell me in the comments!