Crop Spot: Romanesco

Romanesco hits a sweet spot for me as a nutrition science geek. It is beautiful, nutritious and delicious, but best of all, the chartreuse buds spiral into Fibonacci sequence fractals. What more could you want, except for maybe some ideas on how to prepare it? 

When I am working at the farmer’s market, I notice that people love to admire the Romanesco, they pick it up, exclaim over it, and photograph it, much more than they actually buy it. The reason I hear most often is that people just don’t know what to do with it. But I think they secretly believe something so exquisite looking can’t possibly taste good; I call this the ‘Red Delicious Principle’. We have become so accustomed to produce that is bred by salesman, not chefs, for winning beauty pageants not cooking contests that it distorts our perception. So much of the produce offered at the grocery store is a limited selection of specific varieties designed to ship well and look pretty. When we go to the farmers market, we expect the produce to be less shiny and ornamental, but taste a thousand times better. Romanesco definitely looks like it was bred by mathematicians not farmers, so it sparks some incredulity.  

But Romanesco is more than just a pretty face, it offers great taste and nutrition too. Romanesco is closely related to broccoli and cauliflower with a snappy crunch and nutty flavor. It is a great source of fiber and offers vitamin C, vitamin K, B vitamins, and choline. It also has about 3g of protein per serving. Overall, Romanesco is a great choice for adding some color to plate and eating a variety of veggies for good health. 

How to Use It

Romanesco is also easy to prepare; you can substitute it for broccoli or cauliflower in any recipe you like. However, I think roasting is the best way to enhance the nutty sweetness and firm texture. The most basic recipe is to cut the Romanesco into florets and spread on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and roast at 425oF for about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with coarse salt and fresh pepper. Done. For some more excitement, toss with crushed garlic before roasting and finish with any combination of lemon zest, sharp shredded cheese like pecorino, toasted pine nuts, chili flakes or chili oil, fresh tarragon, or capers. Romanesco is also a beautiful addition to soups, stews or curries. Add it near the end of cooking to retain some crunch. 

Mieko Diener is a dietetic intern with a master’s in nutritional science from the University of Michigan School of Public Health.