Wandering the aisles of one of my favorite farmers markets last week, I came across this awesome vision. Something I’ve only seen in my Italian cookbooks, occasionally on some Travel Channel show B-roll, and while in Italy almost 9 years ago, this very seasonal, and hence almost mythical vegetable, has made its way to the local markets of Southern California. Thank you Farmer Dave at Stehly Farms!
So what is the deal with this spiny head of tightly woven, conical, chartreuse florets, that looks like it would be more at home on the Great Barrier Reef than your dinner plate? Well, I decided to find out. I bought a medium head (which actually turned out to be about 3.75 lbs.), and hurried home to peruse my cookbook shelves for a good recipe.
It turns out that it is more like cauliflower than its name would suggest, and I found the texture to be more tender in the stalk than cauliflower, yet firm, with a subtly nutty flavor, that was more surprisingly, almost sweet. With cooking, the green becomes even more intense visually, and overall, its firmer quality allows it to hold up really well in sautes, stir fry, and casseroles. So here’s what I did with it…
Night one – I broke up half of the head into 2-3 inch florets, tossed them lightly with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted them at 375 F on a baking sheet, flipping them once or twice, until little touches of crisp brown began to show around the edges (about 15 – 20 min depending on size). Result: Heaven! Even the kids began picking up pieces out of the pan, and that didn’t stop them from cleaning their plates of it at the table either! When I roast cauliflower this way, I usually make aioli or season a bit of mayonnaise with garlic as a dipping sauce, but the taste was so flavorful, and the roasting complimented it so well, that we forgot about the sauce altogether.
Night two – While I loved the roasted Romanesco enough to have it that way all over again, we thought we’d try another method. My daughter requested pasta for dinner, so I took the second half of the head, cut it into smaller, bite sized pieces this time, and while I let about a 1/2 lb. penne pasta cook, I sauteed about 3 cloves of garlic and 1 medium-large onion in olive oil, and then added about 8 oz. of italian sausage, and then tossed in the Romanesco, as well as a splash of dry white wine and 1/2 c. of chicken stock. My daugther tossed in a sprig of rosemary from the garden, and I added some grated lemon peel to the mix (about 1/2 a lemon). While this simmered, covered, for about 5 minutes, we grated some Pecorino Romano cheese. When the Romanesco was tender, we removed from the heat, tossed in the pasta, and a few generous handfuls of cheese and roasted pine nuts. It was wonderful. The vegetable stayed together (it doesn’t crumble when soft like cauliflower does), and we enjoyed a quick, 15 minute meal. As it turns out, Rachel Ray has a similar recipe – she uses walnuts instead of pine nuts.
The following week, I was told that it was the last week or so for Broccolo Romanesco, so I bought a big head of it, and we made three meals out of it. Our affair was fleeting, but the love is not. While writing this, my daughter spotted the photos and said, “I want to eat that again”. Here in LA, our climate is temperate enough that we don’t pay much mind to crocuses and groundhogs, but next spring, we’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for this wondrous bearer of spring. If you come across this awkwardly beautiful, veggie of legend, then don’t be intimidated. Consider it as harmless as a cauliflower, but more amazing in almost every way. You won’t regret it.