Fresh picked produce is beautiful to look at, which is one of the things I enjoy so much about cooking with locally grown food. However, some vegetables are so visually striking that they stand out on the produce racks. Broccoli romanesco (also called Roman cauliflower or coral broccoli) is one of those vegetables with a remarkable–even bizarre–appearance.
Originally from Rome, Italy, and dating back at least to the reign of Julius Caesar, broccoli romanesco is a cousin of broccoli and cauliflower in the Brassica family. Lime-green in color, it leans more toward cauliflower in texture, and can be cooked in similar ways, too. The taste is a little sweeter than most other cole crops. It prefers cool growing temperatures and regular water, so can be grown in our northern climate home gardens, too.
Broccoli romanesco is a naturally occurring fractal, a mathematically repeating self-similar pattern. Florets are made up of smaller florets, forming logarithmic spirals which end in pointed cone shapes all over the head (see photo). Where else in the plant world can such elegant mathematics be enjoyed for dinner, too?
Raw with a spicy dip is one way to serve it. It’s winter, though, and I wanted to make a warm dish which would make interesting conversation at a holiday dinner table. In researching this vegetable, I found a web site called Serious Eats which recommended cooking broccoli romanesco Italian style with browned butter and shallots. I didn’t have any shallots on hand, but the nutty flavor of browned butter sounded good with the slightly sweet flavor of the romanesco, and I added some fresh sage and onion to help blend everything together in the recipe which follows.
Buon appetito! And happy holidays!
- 3 cups broccoli romanesco florets (Hopewell Farm, Everson)
- 3 Tbsp butter (Breckinridge Farm, Everson)
- 1 Tbsp fresh sage, minced (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
- ½ cup onion, chopped (Hopewell Farm, Everson)
- ½ tsp salt
- Begin by steaming the broccoli romanesco florets over boiling water for about 10-15 minutes until tender, but with some firmness remaining (al dente). Be careful not to overcook, as some find the resulting texture unpleasant.
- In a separate 2-qt. saucepan, cut the butter into small bits and melt over medium heat. As soon as the butter has completely melted, stir in the minced sage leaves and chopped onion. Continue cooking, watching carefully to prevent burning, until the milk solids in the butter start to turn brown and the onion is translucent or lightly browned. Remove from heat, and stir the steamed broccoli romanesco and salt into the browned butter.
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad and Chestnut, Bellingham
Community Food Co-operative, Westerly and Cordata, Bellingham
Terra Organica, Flora and Cornwall, Bellingham