A romanesco is so beautiful, how could one resist it? Well, actually I’d been resisting them for a week or two, seeing them piled invitingly in Whole Foods’ greengrocery section, before temptation became too much yesterday morning and one was lifted carefully into my basket. They’re not commonly found on supermarket shelves in London but you do see them from time to time. However, in Rome they’re quite common and seen in markets such as the Campo de’ Fiori in Rome, where the photo below was taken back in 2012. The Campo de’ Fiori – literally ‘the field of flowers’ – was indeed that until 1456 when it was paved over and for a time became a public execution site. Now it’s a thriving and wonderful open air market surrounded by shops, cafes and restaurants.
Sometimes known as Romanesco broccoli or Roman cauliflower, Romanesco comes from the same family of brassicas and is something between the two. It has a firmer texture and the taste is a bit more delicate and nutty. The first record of it goes back to 16th century Italy. Its beautiful shape, which really is quite mesmerising, can excite mathematicians as its form is known as a ‘natural fractal’ which makes up a logarithmic spiral. I won’t try to explain or even understand that further – though I did actually do A Level maths! – but there’s no doubt it’s very special to look at both for its spiral of pointed florets and its beautiful bright light green colour.
Having bought it finally, I wanted to do something a bit special with it. Living on my own, I could have been eating it for three or four nights but decided the best thing to do was cook it as a side dish to go with the salmon I’d planned for the evening and make the rest into soup.
You could use any cauliflower recipe for the Romanesco and do things like ‘steaks‘ or the fabulous ‘drowned cauliflower‘ from Sicily. I wanted to keep it simple though and really appreciate its flavour, so I gently boiled it in a very small amount of water – half steaming it really, in my Le Creuset pan – and then tossed it in sizzling butter with almonds and lemon.
The first thing to do is divide the Romanesco. I cut a thin slice off the base, which was a bit dry, and threw that away, then I sliced off the stem up to the start of the florets, keeping the leaves. The stem and leaves could go into the soup. I broke the head in two and put a few of the larger florets (none were very big) into a separate saucepan for my supper.
(1) Romanesco Soup
- 1 Romanesco, prepared as above (saving some florets for )
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- about 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- about 600ml or so of mild stock or water
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put the shallots and olive oil in a medium saucepan. I used shallots for their milder flavour rather than onions. Gently cook until the shallots are softening. Meanwhile, chop the stem and leaves of the Romanesco into roughly 2cm cubes or slices, leaving the florets whole. Keep the florets to the side and put the rest into the pan with the shallots. Let it all cook gently together, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes.
Now add the florets and stir to mix. Season with salt and pepper. Pour over the stock or water until it barely covers the vegetables. Bring to the boil and then turn down to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes. Be careful not to overcook and check to see how tender the stems are. As soon as a sharp knife goes through, remove from the heat. I was keen to not overcook it and lose that glorious colour; I also wanted to retain a nice fresh taste to my soup. In my experience, overcooked brassicas are not nice!
I used my hand blender to blend it to a smooth consistency. I like my soups fairly thick, but if you want to thin it more, just add a little extra stock or water. Check the seasoning. Now your soup is ready!
That done … it was time to think about my supper.
(2) Romanesco with Butter, Almonds & Lemon
- Romanesco florets (see above)
- a knob of butter (about 15g)
- a little (barely 1 tablespoon) extra virgin olive oil
- a few almonds slivers (either flaked almonds or very carefully slice across the middle of whole blanched ones)
- lemon juice
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cook the florets in a little salted water or steam them. Be careful not to overcook and drain as soon as they’re al dente – a sharp knife will go through them but they’re still firm and will have a nice bite when you eat them.
Heat the butter and oil in a frying pan. Add the almond slivers. When the almonds start to turn golden brown tip in the prepared Romanesco florets. Stir well over a medium heat and coat the florets in the buttery mix. You’re not really cooking them as you’ve precooked them, but this is to bring all the flavours together. When it’s all caramelising a little, squeeze over a little lemon juice, stir, and then take off the heat. They’re ready to serve.
I ate mine with some simply cooked salmon but chicken would be good too. Or eat the Romanesco as part of a vegetarian meal.
It was very delicious. I like both cauliflower and broccoli but the Romanesco really did have a special delicate and nutty flavour all of its own. It looked so beautiful too that it would be a great side dish to serve friends or family.
I stored the soup in the fridge overnight once it was cool and then took it out at lunchtime today. I reheated a portion for my lunch and divided the rest into single portions for the freezer.
I drizzled over a little cream to serve (merely because I happened to have some opened in the fridge) and a little olive oil. I toasted some bread – and there was lunch. The soup was wonderful; quite creamy and not just from the added cream as I put in such a small amount. It really does have a lovely taste – so much between cauliflower and broccoli I couldn’t really say which it’s most like. I liked the soup a lot but the real highlight of my Romanesco cooking was that ‘stir fry’ with the almonds and lemon last night – that was truly wonderful.