It caught my eye as soon as I approached Cora Lamar’s Oak Hill Farms table at the Pearl Farmers Market Saturday.
“What is that?” I asked. The woman standing next to me in line was as fascinated as I was. Its outer leaves reminded me of cauliflower, though the yellow-tinged green suggested it might be broccoflower. But its fractal florets gave it an other-worldly cast. (Not sure what fractal means? Click here.)
“Romanesco,” was Lamar’s reply.
Never heard of that before.
“What do you do with it?”
“Whatever you do with cauliflower,” she said.
At $2 a head, I had to buy one and give it a try. A few moments later, I ran into chef James Moore, who offered the same advice as Lamar, just use it the way you would cauliflower, raw or cooked.
When I got home, I did a little research. It seems that romanesco dates back to the 16th century, so it’s not some sort of genetically modified creation.
Kelly Rossiter on TLC’s website offers a pretty good description of it: “This vegetable is such an enigma that it is called a romanesco cauliflower in the U.S. and Canada, a romanesco broccoli and a romanesco cabbage in Germany. It is the most amazing chartreuse color and unlike hybrids like broccoflower and orange and purple cauliflower, it is a species unto itself. It demands photographing as much as cooking, and I can pretty much guarantee that it is the only vegetable you’ll ever eat that is a fractal.”
I broke off a floret and tasted it raw. Yes, there was a resemblance to cauliflower, but there was also a greener, more cruciferous quality that made Rossiter’s mention of cabbage seem apt.
So, how would it taste alongside cauliflower? I had a head in the refrigerator already, so I decided to roast half of each with some olive oil and garlic for about 35 minutes at 400 degrees. They cooked up at the same time, and the same slight difference in flavor was noticeable.
Better still was a velvety low-carb soup I made with the other halves as well as some leeks I also picked up from Lamar. It’s was so luxuriously rich that I except I”ll be back for more romanesco while it’s in season.
Romanesco-Cauliflower Leek Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
3 leeks, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 large head cauliflower, chopped, or 1 romanescco head, chopped (or a combination of the two)
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
8 cups vegetable broth
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup heavy cream (optional)
Heat the olive oil and butter in a large pot over medium heat, and saute the leeks, cauliflower, and garlic for about 10 minutes. Stir in the vegetable broth, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 45 minutes.
Remove the soup from heat. Blend the soup with an immersion blender or hand mixer. Season with salt and pepper. Mix in the heavy cream, and continue blending until smooth. Garnish with fried garlic chips, if desired.
Makes 12 servings.
Approximate nutritional value per serving: 155 calories, 8.3 g carbohydrates, 35 mg cholesterol, 13.1 g fat, 2.2 g fiber, 2.4 g protein, 378 mg sodium
Adapted from allrecipes.com