What is Romanesco?
This spiky Pokémon-like, fractal flower is a mesmerisingly beautiful heirloom vegetable with Italian origins. This is cauliflower and broccoli’s flamboyant sibling – firmer and crunchier than cauliflower but similar in flavour. Chartreuse in colour, it’s so much more than just a pretty face. Romanesco is that otherworldly green veggie that begs to be taken home and explored, making it one of the most impulsively purchased vegetables of all time. Probably.
Sometimes, I just toss it into my trolley with no clear idea what I’ll do with it other than knowing I want to at the very least admire it whenever I open the fridge.
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Romanesco grows best in cool weather in full sun and sprouts into a large head about 16 cm in diameter, much like cauliflower, with a thick central stalk and large, dark green leaves. How to choose a Romanesco? Look for sharp points, a vivid green colour, with no discoloration or brown spots, and make sure the head is sturdy and not rubbery and soft.
What does Romanesco taste like?
Its flavour is often described as nutty, mild and sweet. When cooked, it acquires an earthy flavour but it may turn bland and slightly bitter if overcooked. It can wear a myriad outfits and look spectacular in all of them. It lends itself to all manner of flavour and maintains its main character status on a plate.
Cooking with Romanesco
Romanesco is a dynamic veggie and there are so many ways to prepare it – your safest bet is to treat it as you would broccoli or cauliflower. Finely chop it into a frittata; roast the florets and toss them with a dressing of lemon, olive oil and herbs; boil the whole head and roast in a mixture of oil, spices and yoghurt; or cut into steaks and throw on the braai as in my recipe below. You could also tempura the florets to make a crunchy snack and dip it into a citrusy aioli. Maintain those attractive fractals by not cutting the florets too small, but if you’re keeping it raw, it’s best to slice it into thin, delicate slices and toss into a coleslaw.
If you have some on hand right now, make the very best of it with these recipes: