Or, What Do You Do With This Thing?
The wikapedia entry reads a bit like poetry at times — “the inflorescence has an approximate fractal character, with the branched meristems making a logarithmic spiral” — but a sort of scientific poetry that I don’t normally associate with the food on my table.
My first memory of seeing one of these was two or three years back when I ran into Shana at the farmer’s market one Saturday morning, and she brandished it at me like some sort of medieval weapon, exclaiming “this is just the coolest looking thing.” And it is.
Like sunflowers, artichokes and pine cones, the romanescu evinces a fibonacci sequence, and though I’ve never quite gotten the mathematical theory behind those, I know I’ve never seen one that I didn’t like.
My meandering research regarding romanescu today has led me to sources identifying it as variously romanescu and romanesco and, more, intriguingly, as both romanescu(o) cauliflower and romanescu(o) broccoli. I’m wondering if both broccoli and cauliflower fans want to claim it or if it’s more like the French calling the common household pest the German cockroach, while the Germans call the same little guy, you guessed it, the French cockroach.
Aesthetic appreciation aside, it was slightly daunting to open up the Thanksgiving farm share box last Saturday and say “oh, hmm, one of those.” (Naomi said “what is that thing?!”). It was fun to photograph, but then the question remained — “what do I do with this?” And since the Tantre Farm handout indicated it was one of the more perishable items, I figured that I better answer that question for myself right quick.
So, reader, I roasted it. A couple of years back I started roasting cauliflower, sometimes broken up and tossed with olive oil and salt, sometimes, with smaller heads, kept whole and basted with mustard, lemon juice and olive oil. Roasting has made me quite fond of a vegetable I heretofore considered edible only when under a blanket of cheese sauce.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Pull the leaves off the romanescu and use a knife to sort of pry out the core. Then use your fingers to pull apart the inflorescence (look Ma, using my new vocabulary) along the natural dividing lines, rendering the romanescu into manageable but still attractive pieces. Toss with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and a couple of generous pinches of coarse salt. Roast about 40 minutes until some gold and even deep brown color flecks the green of the romanescu. It will be slightly crunchy and quite delicious as is. I snacked on some right out of the oven (snacked! On a vegetable sometimes called broccoflower — can you believe it?) but most got tossed with whole wheat penne, feta cheese and caramelized onions, with some toasted walnuts on top for the grown-ups who eat nuts. And that is a very nice way indeed to eat your vegetables and call it dinner.
If you are looking for a recipes a bit more formal than mine, here are a couple that seem appealing. You can, I gather, also use it in almost any recipe calling for broccoli or cauliflower. But make sure you choose something that will show off that fine logarithmic spiral.