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Roasted Romanesco

Romanesco is both an oddity and miracle of nature. As a member of the brassica oleracea family, it is closely related to cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. In fact, it’s often called Romanesco cauliflower or Romanesco broccoli. They’ve been grown in Italy since the 16th century, hence its name (as in pertaining to Rome).

Its amazing and beautiful form is made up of curds known as fractals—a pattern that is repeated in increasingly smaller scales. The entire head is made up of spirals. Each spiral is made up of smaller spiraling spirals, and those are made up of even smaller spirals. It’s just incredible that this vegetable grows in nature like that. (The photo at right is of one little curd. Not only is it adorable, it’s just crazy to look at.)

Its flavor is typical brassica—in fact, it’s like a cross between cauliflower and broccoli. It stays firmer than cauliflower when cooked, and is milder in flavor than broccoli. You can substitute Romanesco for just about any brassica in just about any dish. As I do with so many vegetables, I love to roast them. So simple, so delicious.

Enjoy!

Roasted Romanesco

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

1 head Romanesco cauliflower
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Cut the Romanesco into curds (individual small heads) and place them in a bowl. Add the oil, salt, and pepper and mix well. Spread the Romanesco out in a roasting pan. Roast until the tip of a knife goes through the curds easily, about 30 to 40 minutes. Stir occasionally. And that’s it!

 

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Broccoli and Beans Braised in Saffron Broth

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Saffron

I’ve been so busy lately that I have a stack of magazines that have been piling up, waiting to be read. I finally read the holiday issue of Saveur magazine. There was an interesting article in there by Andy Isaacson about saffron. What made this particular article different was that it talked about domestic saffron, and, in particular, saffron grown by the Pennsylvania Dutch.

Skunky saffron

Skunky saffron

Yeah. Who know that Amish people grew saffron? Apparently, it’s part of their heritage. And that got me thinking about how very little Americans use saffron, while in some cultures it’s an integral part of their cuisine. Of course, cost is a factor—saffron is the most expensive spice in the world (anywhere from $1500 to 10,000 per pound). I almost laughed myself silly when I saw some saffron in an Asian market for $1.99. It was the skunkiest saffron I’d ever seen and wondered what it really was (it looked like singed gorilla hair).

Well, that in turn reminded me that I still had some great saffron that my brother brought me from Morocco, and I was inspired to use it in this dish. In this recipe, you have protein, heart-healthy vegetables, and the exotic saffron to give it a special flavor, aroma, and color. Enjoy!

Broccoli and Beans Braised in Saffron Broth

2 cups dry white beans
3 cups vegetable broth
Pinch of saffron
1 large head broccoli, cut into large florets
1 large onion, sliced
3 or 4 large garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

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Clean the beans by rinsing them and picking out any stones or debris. Place them in a medium saucepan pot and cover with water by about 3 inches; bring it to a boil. Let it boil for about 2 minutes, then shut the heat and let the beans set for about an hour. IMG_5909

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Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Crush the saffron into the broth and let it sit for a few minutes.

Drain the beans.

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Transfer the beans to a large casserole dish. Pour in the broth. Combine the broccoli, onions, salt, and pepper and place them on top of the beans. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 1 hour.IMG_5919

Stir the contents, and bake another 20 minutes to thicken. If it seems dry at this point, add another 1 cup of broth or water.IMG_5921

Serve with brown rice or noodles.IMG_5924


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Broccoli Potato Soup with Beans and Greens

IMG_3498I love it when leftovers come together so beautifully that they make a healthy, delicious meal. Yep, this is another one of my everything-in-the-refrigerator concoctions. And it turned out pretty damn good.

I love soup, and it’s one of the easiest ways to utilize leftovers. In this case, I had a few potatoes, a piece of broccoli, and some leftover greens. So, this is what I came up with. I hope you give it a try and enjoy it.

Broccoli Potato Soup with Beans and Greens

2 teaspoons olive oil
½ cup chopped white onion
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 cups chopped potatoes
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups chopped broccoli
2 cups cooked beans
2 cups greens, washed

Heat the oil in a medium pot. Add onion and ¼ teaspoon salt and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute another 2 minutes.

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Make a space in the pot and place the tomato paste in that spot. Stir it for about 30 seconds then stir it into the onions and garlic. Mix well.

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Add potatoes and stir them in. Let cook about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
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Pour in the broth and add broccoli and ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer, covered, until potatoes and broccoli are tender, about 15 minutes.

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Using a stick blender or blender, puree the soup. If you want a completely smooth soup, puree the entire pot (in a couple of batches). If you prefer it chunky, puree only half of it. If you’ve used a blender, pour the soup back into the pot.

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Stir in beans and greens and continue cooking another 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed.

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Ladle into bowls. You can serve with black or red pepper, grated cheese, or croutons, if desired.

Makes 4 servings.


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Creamless Broccoli-Gouda Soup

Broccoli-Gouda Soup

Broccoli-Gouda Soup

This is one of those recipes that came from wanting to satisfy a craving with what was already at hand. I had purchased a head of broccoli because I wanted some in a veggie quesadilla. But there’s only so much broccoli you can put in a quesadilla.

I looked at the leftover broccoli and cheddar cheese (also purchased for the quesadilla) and I instantly thought “broccoli-cheddar soup.” Then I remembered that I had a piece of Gouda cheese that needed to be used and I thought, “Okay, broccoli-Gouda soup.”

Traditionally, broccoli-cheese soup uses milk or half-and-half, but I didn’t want to use any dairy (apart from the cheese). So I thought to use a technique I learned in culinary school for thickening cream soups: oats. It thickens it up without adding the extra fat and calories and keeps the soup light and filling without being overly rich.

I just threw all these ingredients together and I was immensely pleased with the result. This soup is hearty and filling, but less heavy than cream-based soups as well as healthier. The flavor is deep and pleasing, and it looks really appetizing. It would be well complemented by croutons or toast, and a side of green or bean salad.

By the way, if you want to go completely dairy-free, the soup was already delicious even before I stirred in the cheese. So go ahead and omit it—you’ll enjoy it just the same.

Creamless Broccoli-Gouda Soup

Makes 4 servings.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup coarsely chopped white onion
4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 medium head broccoli, chopped (florets and tender stems)
1 small carrot, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons quick-cooking oats
2 tablespoons flour
4 oz. Gouda, shredded

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Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a medium pot. Add onion and saute over medium heat until soft and translucent. Add garlic and nutmeg and saute another minute.

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Add broccoli, carrot, salt, and black pepper to taste and cook, stirring often, until broccoli turns bright green.

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Add broth and oats; stir and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower heat, cover, and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes.

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Make a roux by heating the remaining oil in a small skillet. Sprinkle in flour and whisk until it cakes up and becomes slightly stiff. Keep whisking until it turns a nutty brown. This will take only a minute or so.

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Stir it into the soup until it’s well blended.

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Puree the soup, either in a blender with an immersion blender, to the consistency that you like―fully blend for a smooth soup, or leave some pieces for a chunkier soup (I like it chunky). If you’ve used a blender, pour it back into the pot.

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Stir in the cheese and continue stirring over low heat until it’s melted in. Check for seasoning and adjust, if desired.

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Serve hot.

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Romanesco Cauliflower

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a romanesco cauliflower, or broccoli, but it’s a gorgeous vegetable. Its shape is what they call “fractal.” Merriam-webster.com defines fractal as “any of various extremely irregular curves or shapes for which any suitably chosen part is similar in shape to a given larger or smaller part when magnified or reduced to the same size.” I’ll just say that it’s amazing. I mean, take a look at it.Romanesco

Also known as broccoflower and Roman cauliflower, romanesco is part of the brassica family, which includes cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, etc.) and was first seen in Italy around the 16th century. Although its color is closer to broccoli, its texture and flavor is that of cauliflower.

It’s such a visually stunning vegetable that whenever I see it, I can’t pass it up. Nature is a wonderous thing.Romanesco

This is a very simple old Italian recipe that usually uses regular cauliflower, but romanesco is easily substituted.

Pasta with Romanesco Cauliflower and Pignoli

1 small head romanesco cauliflower
1/2 pound whole wheat spaghetti
3 teaspoons kosher salt plus more
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup pignoli,  toasted
1 teaspoon paprika
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil (optional)
Grated parmigiano or pecorino romano

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and 3 teaspoons salt; and cook until al dente, about 10 to 12 minutes. Drain well.

Meanwhile, cut up cauliflower into florets. Heat olive oil in a large pan; add garlic and saute for one minute; sprinkle in paprika then immediately add cauliflower. Sauté over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Add 1/4 cup water; cover the pan, lower the heat to medium-low, and cook until tender but firm, about another 5 minutes. Uncover and stir in the pignoli and salt to taste.

When the pasta is cooked, drain well and transfer to a serving bowl. Pour the cauliflower mixture on top and mix. If the pasta seems dry, drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on top and mix. Sprinkle some parmigiano or pecorino over the top and serve hot.

Makes 2 servings.