Romanesco broccoli (also known as Roman cauliflower, Broccolo Romanesco, Romanesque cauliflower or simply Romanesco) is an edible flower bud of the species Brassica oleracea. First documented in Italy, it is chartreuse in color. The Romanesco has been grown in Italy since the 16th century and has a striking appearance because its form is a natural approximation of a fractal. When compared to a traditional cauliflower, its texture as a vegetable is far more crunchy, and its flavor is not as assertive, being delicate and nutty.
Romanesco superficially resembles a cauliflower, but it is chartreuse in color, and its form is strikingly fractal in nature. The inflorescence (the bud) is self-similar in character, with the branched meristems making up a logarithmic spiral. In this sense the bud's form approximates a natural fractal; each bud is composed of a series of smaller buds, all arranged in yet another logarithmic spiral. This self-similar pattern continues at several smaller levels. The pattern is only an approximate fractal since the pattern eventually terminates when the feature size becomes sufficiently small. The number of spirals on the head of Romanesco broccoli is a Fibonacci number. Nutritionally, romanesco is rich in vitamin C, vitamin K, dietary fiber, and carotenoids. The causes of its differences in appearance from the normal cauliflower and broccoli have been modeled as an extension of the preinfloresence stage of bud growth, but the genetic basis of this is not known.
Broccoli romanesco is both economical and versatile. The heads are deceptive in size start separating the florets and it never seems to end, which allows for a bit of experimenting with each purchase. The most basic and sublime way to enjoy it is steamed or boiled with a squeeze of fresh lemon and a generous splash of extra virgin olive oil. The firm, compact nature of the florets make it a natural addition to a verdure fritto misto (mixed fried vegetables), and if you want get your fancy on, try broccoli romanesco with brown butter and crispy shallots.
Like other forms of broccoli and cabbage, the noble romanesco pairs perfectly with pasta. Use the smaller florets for that purpose and use a diminutive pasta shape like ditalini (little tubes, or mezzi rigatoni). Simple method for pasta with broccoli romanesco can be adapted to include other ingredients, but in its most basic format, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and bit of peperoncino is really all you need.
Blanch the florets in plenty of boiling, salted water until they just turn tender, and shock them in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Sauté sliced garlic and a bit of crushed red pepper flakes in olive oil. You can add a little tomato paste to the pan for an extra layer of flavor. Add the broccoli romanesco florets and sauté briefly, make sure the florets are well coated with extra virgin olive oil, then toss everything with the al dente pasta and a splash of the pasta cooking water. Grate over plenty of Pecorino Romano off the heat. It isn't often that something so weird looking becomes something so delicious.
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