One of the more unusual vegetables you will find at the farmers market is romanesco. Romanesco is not an ancient vegetable. Many believe it was the result of cross breeding in the 16th century by Italian farmers. (Hence the name.) The shape of the head resembles a cauliflower, and it is in fact from the same family, Brassicaceae, which includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage. The texture is very dense and crisp, similar to cauliflower. One of the most striking attributes of this vegetable is the look of it. Each one of the buds is a beautiful spiral, an approximation of a fractal, meaning each bud in the spiral is composed of a series of smaller buds, on top of buds, etc. The taste is very similar to broccoli, but a lot milder and slightly nutty. Loaded with vitamins C and K, fiber and carotenoids, romanesco is a great way to have a nutritious vegetable that looks very different from its cousins.
When buying romanesco you want to make sure it’s nice and firm, just like cauliflower. Overall there should not be brown spots. That said, a few tiny spots are ok; you can cut them off. Just use your best judgment. The whole romanesco head should have a nice heaviness to it. If you are not cooking it right away store it in a bag, in your crisper bin.
Romanesco can be cooked in a variety of ways: steamed, blanched or even roasted in a very hot oven. You can eat it raw, but cooking it a bit will bring out the beautiful flavor. I opted for blanching it this week.
Trim the head as you would cauliflower: removing the tough leaves and separating the florets from the core. In a large pot of salted water boil the florets for 2 -3 minutes. Then remove and place in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and drain. Keep the blanching water and use it for your pasta. That is a little trick to enhance the pasta flavor.
While the pasta cooks, saute the onion, garlic and red chili flakes in olive oil. I used a combination of leek and onion, but you can use whatever you have on hand. Once the onion takes on a nice golden brown toss in the romanesco to coat. Just about the same time your pasta should be done and you can add that in, too.
Save a little of the pasta water and use it to help melt the cheese and bring it all together.
This dish is hearty, satisfying and done in under 30 minutes. Serve it with a little crunchy garlic bread and you are all set. Click this link to see my quick and easy recipe: Romanesco and Pasta.