Romanesco: an Intriguing Vegetable
Romanesco demands as much interest from photographers as it does from chefs. In fact there are some who say they use it as a centrepiece at dinner parties to generate conversation!
This intriguing vegetable is brightly coloured, absolutely beautiful and even a little bizarre, with sculptured lime-green conical buds on its spiral head that look like something out of the ocean or from prehistoric times. A food critic writing for the New York Times once described it as “an alien vegetable” that looked as if it had come from outer space.
Origin of Romanesco Broccoli
Italian in origin, it is sometimes described as a type of broccoli, sometimes as Roman cauliflower, and in Germany people often refer to it as a type of cabbage. Some people call it “fractal broccoli”.
It’s a Brassica oleracea species – as is broccoli (Brassica oleracea variety italica), brussels sprouts (var. gemmifera), cauliflower (var. botrytis), cabbage (var. capitata), kale (var. acephala), and kohlrabi (var. coulorapa).
Widely heralded as a “new type of broccoli”, Ronanesco broccoli/ cauliflower/ cabbage … or whatever you choose to call it, is anything but new! While some report that it is the result of “selective breeding”, this amazing veg has its roots very firmly in ancient 16th century Italy.
Quite why it hasn’t been more popular than it is now is a bit of a mystery. But normally it’s got to do with marketing; and until chefs and authors like Jamie Oliver started to promote Romanesco relatively recently, vegetable producers didn’t appear to consider it to be a viable crop for resale. While it’s been available at farmer’s markets worldwide for a while, only now is it starting to creep onto supermarket shelves. And we say hooray!
Nutritional Benefits of Romanesco
In addition to being beautiful and very tasty, Romanesco is also one of those wonderfully healthy vegetables. It is said to improve ones eyesight, fight viruses, boost the immune system and generally make the body healthier than ever. It is packed full of vitamins C and K as well as anti-oxidants.
Grow Your Own Romanesco
Even though this intriguing vegetable looks unearthly, it’s just as easy to grow as cauliflower, broccoli and the other brassicas. It grows in much the same way, with thick, sturdy stalks that give rise to rough, wide leaves and a “flower” in the centre. It does though need full sun and lots of nutrients to grow well and thrive, and the soil should be well drained.
Like broccoli and the other related brassicas, Romanesco is a cool-season vegetable that will tend to “bolt” and go to seed if the weather becomes hot. So generally it is best to grow it in spring and autumn.
Cooking and Eating Romanesco
You can blanche, steam or even grill this vegetable – in fact whatever you do successfully with broccoli or cauliflower can be translated into a Romanesco version of the dish. But beware of overcooking.
We’ll give you more cooking ideas for this intriguing vegetable in a future blog post.