The first time I saw romanesco was a few years ago, in the produce section of my local market. I was immediately drawn to its bright, green color and bizarre appearance, a seeming cross between alien plant life and a deep sea creature. It was labeled romanesco broccoli, but the jury seems to still be out on whether it is in fact more closely related to cauliflower. Its florets are firm like those of cauliflower, but they are conical and pointy and, frankly, tend to remind me of creepy carbuncles. That said, I am able to get past that imagery because I know that once cooked, what awaits me is going to be delicious.
My favorite way to eat romanesco, as with cauliflower, is to cut or break it into large pieces, toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast them on a sheet pan in a very hot oven. The roasting gently coaxes out the sweet, mild flavor and as the pieces begin to brown on the outside, the crispy texture makes them irresistible.
I am so pleased to see that this freak of the vegetable world is finally becoming more mainstream and after seeing it for sale at Safeway the other day, I knew that it had finally gained the acceptance it deserves.
There are endless ways to prepare romanesco, including steaming, boiling, roasting and sauteing. It can be used in soups, pastas, vegetable medleys and ragouts. Basically, anything you do with cauliflower or broccoli can be done with romanesco. I like to prepare it in a way that showcases its odd appearance, because it is just so unusual and always a great conversation starter. Of course, in another ten years or so, romanesco will be as common as carrots and by then, we will have shifted our focus to ogling red snow peas or square eggplants.