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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.


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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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.