With its florescent lime-green hue and funky spire-shaped florets, Romanesco looks a little like broccoli from another planet. In fact, its alien appearance earned it a cameo in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” (In one scene, Rey is shown biting into an apple studded with Romanesco florets, which drew commentary from famed astrophysicist and Star Wars fact-checker, Neil deGrasse Tyson.) In reality, this cruciferous veggie, sometimes referred to as Romanesco broccoli, is more closely related to cauliflower than broccoli. It’s also a bit crunchier with a milder, slightly nutty flavor. Though Romanesco has been on the menu in Italy since the 16th century, it didn’t make its debut in the United States until the late 90s. Until recently, it was found mostly at farmer’s markets. These days, however, you might spot it at your local supermarket during the fall and winter.
Like other members of the Brassica family, including kale and cabbage, Romanesco is high in Vitamins C and K, and is a good source of dietary fiber. Romanesco is also particularly high in carotenoids and phytochemicals.
When buying Romanesco, choose heads that are bright in color. The stem should be firm, with no signs of wilting. Any attached leaves should be perky and crisp. Pick it up: it should feel dense and heavy for its size. Store it in a sealed plastic bag and refrigerate for up to a week.
What to Do with Romanesco
Though broccoli and cauliflower are perfectly respectable vegetables, let’s face it: they get a lot of play. Romanesco, with its exotic appearance and earthy flavor, might be just the ticket to spruce up familiar dishes. Luckily, you can do just about anything with Romanesco that you might do with cauliflower or broccoli. Try it on a crudités platter, paired with an herb dip. To preserve its brilliant color, first blanch the florets in salted, boiling water, and then shock them in an ice bath. Roasting might be the best way to concentrate the vegetable’s earthy, sweet flavor. For a simple weeknight dinner, pair olive oil roasted Romanesco florets and canned, drained chickpeas with pasta, a handful of chopped fresh herbs, and grated Parmesan. It also makes a nice side dish for fish, steak or roast chicken: simply sauté florets in olive oil with garlic and red pepper flakes and finish with a squeeze of lemon juice. The most important thing to remember: don’t overcook it! You’re aiming for al dente, not mushy.
Here are a few recipes to try (some call for broccoli or cauliflower, but you can easily swap in Romanesco):
Abigail Chipley is a freelance recipe developer, writer and cooking teacher who lives in Portland, Oregon.
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