All About Romanesco – The Most Beautiful Vegetable in the World
“Not a variety as much as its own thing, Romanesco is a cauliflower to the French, a calabrese to the Italians.”
-Mark Diacono, in The Sunday Telegraph
It has the lovely nutty flavour (only more so) of cauliflower, although it has a spikier texture, and, if you’re a gardener it helps to know that it grows like broccoli. Taste-wise it’s slightly sweeter than either broccoli or cauliflower (technically, in spite of the Italian view, it’s actually a type of cauliflower, although there’s even some contention about this).
It’s partly the spirals which make it so beautiful – the vegetable as a whole is spiral in structure with echoing spirals in each floret. But the colour is also glorious, a bright gemstone green.
How to cook romanesco
It’s excellent raw, but if you cook it, divide it into florets. It just needs 4-6 minutes in boiling water (keep a watch – the cooking time depends on the freshness of the vegetable and your own al dente preferences). I’m not much of a steamer, but you can also also steam for about twice the amount of time.
Be careful not to overcook or it loses its lovely chartreuse colour and goes soggy – it should still have a bit of crunch. Drain and drizzle with brown butter, or a nutty oil – walnut or hazelnut and sprinkle on a little sea salt.
Alternatively you can try roasting it with butter and some Spanish sweet, smoked paprika – the green of the romanesco complements the red of the paprika very effectively.
What to do with romanesco
The whole raison d’être of romanesco is it’s looks. You wouldn’t hire George Clooney or Kate Moss to do a voice over…. so don’t bother to smother it with a sauce, or dissolve it into a soup.
- The best way of eating it is lightly boiled with a very pungent garlic-parsley sauce as a starter
- With brown butter or a nutty oil as described above
- Or divide into small florets, boil very lightly (only a couple of minutes), drain – reserving the liquid, stir-fry in olive oil with a little freshly ground (in a pestle and mortar) cumin seeds, and add to a pasta you’ve cooked using your romanesco water.
- Again with pasta, as in the previous suggestion, but fry a couple of fat cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed with a teaspoon of smoked salt, and ¼ tsp, or less of chilli flakes in a goodly amount (6 tbsps) of olive oil, add the divided romanesco and stir to coat. Add the contents of the frying pan to the drained pasta and serve adorned with copious flakes of Parmesan.
- Left-over romanesco is good in salads – accentuate its nuttiness with chopped, dry-fried pecans or pine nuts.
Really keen on romanesco? Get tempted by these beautiful gold earrings, moulded on a tiny romanesco floret.