One of the most intriguing — and visually stunning — specimens to emerge at the local farmers’ markets every winter is Romanesco.
Also referred to as broccoli Romanesco or Romanesco cauliflower, it is indeed a close relative of both.
Romanesco, which has an edible flowering head, stands out for its unique physique. With a cone-like spiraling appearance, Romanesco is one of many plants found in nature that takes on what is called the “Fibonacci sequence,” where the individual florets take on a logarithmic spiraling pattern composed of numbers that are the sum of the two numbers preceding it. It really takes seeing Romanesco firsthand to fully appreciate its beauty.
Romanesco can be used similarly as you would broccoli and cauliflower in many cases. It is more similar in texture and flavor to that of cauliflower, with a slightly nutty flavor and crunchier texture. Romanesco is most easily prepared by tossing it in olive oil, seasoning it and roasting it in the oven until a nice crust develops on the outer surface and the texture softens.
Romanesco, which is an Italian native, is more prominent in Italy and the surrounding regions than in the United States. Many of our local growers have started offering Romanesco seasonally in the winter and spring months.
Romanesco can be used as a unique pizza topping or tossed in pasta dishes. And it pairs well with tomato-based sauces and garlic. When cooking Romanesco, one should try to not overcook it, as it can get somewhat mushy and lose some flavor if overdone.
This week I prepared a chili crusted Romanesco side that pairs well with grilled and roasted meat preparations, with pasta, and potato dishes.
CHILI CRUSTED ROMANESCO
1 head Romanesco, florets broken or cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper
Aged balsamic vinegar
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Toss the Romanesco in olive oil and season chili powder, granulated garlic, ground cumin and salt and pepper to taste. Place on a baking sheet and roast for 30-35 minutes, or until desired texture is reached. You can flip the Romanesco pieces halfway through the cooking process if desired.
Yield: Serves about 4 depending on the size of the Romanesco head.