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Sunday, July 14

Gapers Block

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There's something about wandering the aisles at a grocery store and seeing food that is so unbelievably different than anything I've seen before that makes me want to buy it and head straight for the internet when I get home.

Thankfully I have a partner who shares my delight of strange foods, so when he brought out this green ball of something that looked like an alien head, I squeaked with delight and a little bit of surprise.

I assumed it was some recent blend of broccoli and cauliflower and was delighted to find out that it is actually a distant member of the cabbage family (as are broccoli and cauliflower) and had been discovered in Italy in the 1500s. There it is called broccolo romanesco, the french call it chou Romanesco and the Germans have a word for it with 18 letters in it. But you're likely to find it called Romanesco broccoli or Romanesco cauliflower.

The shape of the head is very interesting. It is green, like broccoli, but has really tightly packed heads (or curds) like cauliflower. The stems are very woody and pretty much inedible. But the flavor is similar to that of both. It isn't as powdery tasting as broccoli and doesn't have the slightly bitter taste of cauliflower.

It's delicious raw and would make a wonderful conversation point to any vegetable platter or crudite tray. Any dip that would go well with cauliflower or broccoli would be great with this, and the shape makes it great for dipping.

It's also delicious when it is steamed for 15 minutes — or 25 if you prefer your vegetables soft instead of crunchy. Add a teaspoon of salt to the water and it will help to brighten the flavor without changing it much.

If you're a mathematician, you'll love the fractal nature of this veggie. It repeats itself wonderfully and is quite beautiful. When you go shopping for it, look for heads that are tightly packed, more green than yellow, and avoid any that have signs of mold which can be fairly common since they're often stored in plastic bags.

If you store it in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator it should last at least a week, unless it is overly-ripe. When you're ready to prepare it, rinse it under cold water. Break off the smaller bits near the base. To get to the larger spirals near the bottom, cut out the center stem and then break them apart. The stem is too tough to eat and should be discarded.

And while any recipe for broccoli or cauliflower is suitable, here are a few that are particularly attractive to me. Romanesco cooked with kalamata olives, creamy romanesco soup, pasta with garbanzo beans and romanesco, and romanesco with a mushroom and wine sauce.

Chou Romanesco with Kalamata Olives
1 romanesco head, broken into smaller portions
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of lemon juice or flavored vinegar
1 clove of minced garlic
12 large Kalamata or other flavorful olives
salt and pepper to taste

Bring a quart of water to a boil in a pan with a steamer tray. Place the small heads of romanesco into the pan to steam for about 15 minutes. If they're not done enough cook it for longer. (If you have a large enough pan, you can cut out the center stem and place the entire head of romanesco in the pan to steam. This will increase your steaming time by about 5-10 minutes.)

Remove the pits from the olives if they're present and chop them into quarters. In a small bowl combine the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and olives. Stir well with a spoon. Once the vegetable is finished cooking, remove it to a bowl, pour the dressing on top and toss until everything is well coated. Serve immediately. Makes 4-6 servings.

Creamy Romanesco Soup
1 leek, or 1 medium yellow onion, or 5 shallots
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 clove of garlic
1 head of romanesco
4 cups (2 cans) of chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 cup of milk or cream for thinning out the soup (more broth can be added instead)
salt and pepper to taste

If using a leek, cut it in rings and then immerse them in a bowl of water and stir well to remove any dirt. Carefully remove the leek without stirring up the dirt which should settle to the bottom. Shake them dry. Put a large, deep skillet, dutch oven or larger pot over medium-high heat and add the olive oil and leek and sauté (or the onions or shallots) for about 3-4 minutes, or until it's softened and starting to turn yellow but not browned. Add the clove of garlic and stir. Separate the romanesco head into small bite-sized pieces and add them to the skillet. Let it cook for a few minutes till the leeks start to brown. Add the broth and cook for about 20-30 minutes. The romanesco should be very tender. You can either use a stick blender (like this) or a standing blender. Add 1/4 cup of milk or cream, or more if it's still too thick. Or add more broth until your desired thickness is reached. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with garlic bread. Makes 4-6 servings.

Pasta with Garbanzo Beans and Romanesco
1 can of garbanzo beans that's been drained of liquid
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 teaspoons of salt
1/2 of a head of romanesco, broken into bite-sized pieces
8 ounces of orecchiette pasta (shells would also work)
1 small yellow onion minced
2 cloves of minced garlic
large sprinkle of red pepper flakes
1 can of diced canned tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
grated parmesan cheese for garnish

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the salt and drop in the romanesco and let it cook for about 4 minutes. It should be tender when pierced with a fork but not terribly soft. Remove the romanesco and drop it into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process. Add the pasta to the boiling water and follow package directions for cooking. While the pasta cooks, in a skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil and onion. Let the onion cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until it is tender but not yet turning brown. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, tomatoes, chickpeas and romanesco. Let everything cook for about two minutes or until the ingredients are heated through. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Drain the pasta and add it into the skillet. Toss to combine and serve with grated parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top. Makes 2 servings as a main dish or 4 servings as a side dish.

Romanesco with Mushroom and Wine Sauce
1 head of romanesco
1 teaspoon of salt
1 pound of sliced button mushrooms
3 shallots or 1 small yellow or red onion, sliced
3 tablespoons of butter or olive oil
1/2 cup or port, or other heavy red wine
1/2 teaspoon of dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the romanesco and break it into bite-sized pieces. Bring a pot with a steamer basket to a boil over high heat. Once the water comes to a boil, add the romanesco and cover to cook for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, add the mushrooms, shallots and butter to a skillet. Cook for 10-12 minutes or until the shallots are starting to turn brown and the mushrooms have softened and browned as well. Add the wine and the mustard and reduce the heat to low. After the romanesco has cooked for about 10 minutes, transfer it from the steamer to the skillet. Let it cook, uncovered, for an additional 5-10 minutes until the romanesco has reached the desired tenderness and the wine sauce has reduced. You can serve this on a bed of cooked white or brown rice or even over strips of beef or chicken which have been broiled or sautéed until done. Makes 4-6 servings.

Even crazy looking vegetables that look like they crawled out of the mind of a horror film director's mind can be quite tasty and easy to incorporate into a diet. Romanesco not only looks cool but happens to be high in fiber, vitamin C, and folic acid.

Seen any cool vegetables at your local market that you don't know what to do with? Let me know.

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Temping in Limbo / September 21, 2006 3:46 PM

Where did you find this amazing vegetable?! I want to buy some.

Cinnamon / September 21, 2006 4:47 PM

This was purchased at Caputo's. But you might be able to get it at farmer's markets as well.


About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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