Brassicas, Random Thoughts, Vegetables

Romanesco.

Recently, on the way home from the office, we stopped at the market to pick up a few things and wait out the traffic. You know how it is – you walk into the store thinking you’re just going to pick up a box of pasta, and the next thing you know, you’ve been sidetracked by the golden beets. On the way out of the produce section, I spotted something irresistible.

Romanesco cauliflower.

In the checkout lane, it was inevitable that someone would ask, because the vegetable in question is a headturner. A woman in the next aisle leaned over. “What is that?” she asked, turning it over.

“Ah,” I said. “That is romanesco. People always describe it as a cross between broccoli and cauliflower because of the color, but it’s not. It’s actually an old variety of cauliflower.”

Moments later, I heard the bagger ask the cashier about the romanesco. “Oh, that’s broccoflower,” he said. “It’s a cross between broccoli and cauliflower. It tastes just like both!”

I’m not usually committed enough to being right that I need to be a total jerk, so I didn’t say anything. Some people, not so much. Years ago, in San Francisco, a casual chat with a total stranger at the Real Foods Market on Polk Street nearly came to blows when the woman in question insisted, beyond the point of obnoxiousness, that shallots were “scallions” and scallions were “leeks.” Oh, and for the record, she was the one who cocked her fist, not me. But enough about that. Actually, romanesco – a cauliflower variety sometimes described as a type of broccoli and infrequently even described as a cabbage – isn’t a cross. It’s just a variety of cauliflower which, like cauliflower and cabbage, is a type of Brassica oleracea. The conical spire pattern that characterizes the romanesco has been described as a striking natural illustration of the fractal – a recursive geometric pattern – although the romanesco’s spires don’t continue endlessly. Look closer at each the bumps on each spire – each one looks like a miniature of the larger ones. It’s one of the most beautiful vegetables.

Don’t be intimidated by the romanesco’s appearance. You can cook it just as you would any other cauliflower, although you should take into account its chartreuse cast and gothic appearance if the aesthetics of the dish are important. As with all brassicas, it shouldn’t be overcooked or it turns to mush and smells cabbage-y. Conversely, if you have no romanesco, try any of these recipes with cauliflower.

Romanesco, crispy capers, lemon

A little like the classic bagna càuda, this packs the punch of olive oil and anchovies. Unlike that Piedmontese dish, though, this features fried capers and lemon. The romanesco becomes sweet and caramel-y with its dip in the boiling oil.

one head romanesco cauliflower
1 1/2 tbsp capers, salt- or brine-packed
4 anchovies
2 c olive oil
one lemon
Salt
flat leaf parsley

Divide the romanesco head into its spires/florets. Cut the center core into chunks about the size of one of the smaller spires, if you like. Coarsely chop the anchovies.

If necessary (only if using salt-packed capers), soak the capers, rinse, and repeat to remove excess salt. You can skip this step if using brine-packed capers.

Place a saucepot filled with oil over medium heat and, when hot (350F/177C), add the romanesco florets. Don’t crowd the pot; fry in batches. Fry until golden brown. The size of the florets will reduce by about 30-40% as they lose water during frying. Drain on paper towels over a rack.

After frying all the romanesco, fry the anchovies and capers until the blossoms open; this takes only about 20-30 seconds. Toss with the romanesco. Squeeze a lemon and sprinkle parsley over all. Season lightly with salt if necessary (the capers and anchovies are pretty salty; you may not need salt).

Romanesco, crispy capers, anchovies, lemon.

Romanesco, brown butter

Tip for the haters: brown butter makes any vegetable delicious. Case in point: my husband claims to dislike cauliflower, but the other night, he went back for seconds of romanesco cooked sous vide in brown butter. That may have had something to do with the house-cured bacon, braised whole and served with a marchand de vin- style bacon sauce, but I just want to remind anyone who’s still reading that he did NOT have to have seconds of the romanesco.

What makes brown butter and romanesco even better is a bit of pungency and acid to cut the richness. Try sage leaves, capers or a small amount of diced kimchi – yes, kimchi. Brown butter and kimchi taste amazing together. Substitute capers or a little diced kimchi for the sage leaf if you want to try something different.

one head romanesco cauliflower
4 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
4-6 sage leaves
1/2 lemon
sea salt

450F/232C oven.

Divide the romanesco into its spires/florets, or, if you like, slice it into 1/2″ thick steaks. Toss with oil and spread on a sheet pan. Roast until golden brown.

Place a small saucepan over medium heat and, when hot, add the butter. Watch as it melts and foams; as it turns golden brown and smells nutty, add the sage leaves and fry until crisp. Add about 1 tbsp of lemon juice to the butter and remove from heat. Toss with the romanesco and season with salt.

Instead of roasting, if you have an immersion circulator or another sous vide apparatus, set it to 185F/85C. Season the romanesco with salt and seal in a plastic bag. Cook for 25 minutes. Remove from immersion circulator. Toss with the brown butter before serving.

House cured bacon, bacon reduction, 85C romanesco, brown butter.

Romanesco, cocoa

I see you backing away in fear, but trust me – this is a well-known taste pairing. As the Khymos folks (or whatever the singular of folks is) have noted, they go really well together (TGRWT). I don’t know why, from a scientific standpoint. It seems that the bitterness and slight acidity of the chocolate balance the sweetness of the caramelized cauliflower, while the fruitiness/nuttiness of the chocolate bring out those qualities in the cauliflower. So both contrast and synergy appear to be at work.

This is the easiest dish I could conceive to introduce the pairing. Romanesco – caramelized by frying rather than roasting, which takes babysitting to avoid burning – gets a quick dusting in chocolate shavings. If you try and like it, let me know and I’ll post some recipes for more interesting dishes, like roasted cauliflower flan and cocoa tuiles.

one head romanesco cauliflower
2 c grapeseed oil
small bar of unsweetened chocolate OR unsweetened cocoa powder
sea salt, preferably something with texture like Maldon or Halen Môn

Divide the romanesco head into its spires/florets. Cut the center core into chunks about the size of one of the smaller spires, if you like.

Place a saucepot filled with oil over medium heat and, when hot (350F/177C), add the romanesco florets. Don’t crowd the pot; fry in batches. Fry until golden brown. The size of the florets will reduce by about 30-40% as they lose water during frying. Drain on paper towels over a rack.

After frying all the romanesco, season with sea salt. Shave the unsweetened chocolate over the romanesco with a microplane (for grating hard cheese). Alternatively, sift some unsweetened cocoa through a sieve over the fried romanesco.

About these ads
Standard

2 thoughts on “Romanesco.

  1. Sean says:

    I love cauliflower as much as the next guy, but I really want to hear the story about how you beat the crap out of that woman in San Francisco.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s