Broccoli Romanesco is perhaps the most dramatic vegetable you can hope to find in your CSA box, or anywhere. Our September 20, 2003 newsletter listed some of the descriptions this unique vegetable has earned, including “it may be part starfish, part wedding cake.” I would like to suggest that dinosaur be added to the list. Although I have never actually seen a dinosaur, that’s what I tend to think of when I look at the pale green vegetable’s spirals of bumpy buds.
Broccoli Romanesco’s spiraling shape, in fact, is that of a logarithmic spiral, or fractal. This unique shape is repeated in surprising places throughout the natural world, from the shells of mollusks, to the heads of sunfl owers, to the shape of the Milky Way galaxy. The simplest way to describe the logarithmic spiral is to say that, as the spiral grows larger, its total shape is unaltered by each successive curve. To say that the shape of Romanesco is a fractal is to say that each smaller section of the vegetable is patterned after the shape of the whole. For instance, you will notice that the bumpy florets on the cone-shaped vegetable are successively smaller as they spiral toward the pointed tip. Within each floret, however, there are also spiraling bumps arranged in this same pattern. For a vegetable, that’s pretty remarkable! So before you dig in, be sure to gather round friends and loved ones, gaze into Romanesco’s logarithmic spiral, and ponder the mysteries of the universe.
Romanesco is more closely related to caulifl ower than broccoli. Like broccoli and cauliflower, the part of the plant we eat is the flower. Its closely bunched buds have a similar texture to cauliflower, but are slightly more tender and have a shorter cooking time than cauliflower. Its light texture makes it good eaten raw as crudités. Like broccoliand cauliflower, its flavors are carried nicely by fats, such as butter or olive oil or a creamy cheese sauce. The entire head of Romanesco can be roasted whole, for a dramatic presentation. Or it can be cut into individual florets and steamed or sautéed. We recommend gentler cooking methods, to help maintain the unique shape of the florets. Like cauliflower and broccoli, Romanesco can quickly become unpleasantly mushy if cooked just slightly too long, so keep a close eye on it.
Romanesco can be stored several days in the refrigerator, loosely covered. It seems to be more perishable than caulifl ower, so keep an eye out for softening or discoloration. You may be tempted to put it on display as a conversation piece, but remember to eat it before it starts to go bad. Take a few photos, then cook it up and enjoy.