If there was a beauty contest for vegetables, the romanesco broccoli would win hands down. This funky looking vegetable is a cross between broccoli, cauliflower, and an alien child. It’s also one of nature’s unique gifts. It’s a natural fractal, which makes it almost hypnotically arresting. For the mathematically challenged, a fractal is a geometric figure where each part is the same as the whole. It is a never-ending pattern where the same pattern is replicated in every section. The chartreuse color only adds to its exotic quotient. But is it as good as it looks and how can you use it?
What is Romanesco Broccoli?
The romanesco broccoli belongs to the brassica family, species Brassica oleracea. Other members include broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and cabbage. Although it is only recently that we are seeing it around the world, in Italy, it has been around since the 16th century. It is also known as Roman cauliflower. In appearance, it is undoubtedly the most striking family member. In taste, it is similar to both broccoli and cauliflower, but not as assertive. It has a more delicate, earthier and nuttier flavor.
Nutrition: According to the USDA, 100 gms of romanesco broccoli contains 31 kilocalories and just 0.3g of fats. It is a rich source of vitamins C and K, fiber and carotenoids. 
Where to Buy?
Thanks to its recent popularity, romanesco broccoli is today available quite widely. It is available at many supermarkets, grocers, and even online vegetable stores. You can also try your local farmers’ markets. Many of them keep this vegetable. Interestingly, many farmer markets also keep Romanesco broccoli in different colors, such as deep purple or turmeric yellow! Keep in mind that this is a seasonal vegetable, usually available during winters, fall, and early spring. You are unlikely to find one in warmer months. If you do want it in the summers, look for specialty health stores.
When buying romanesco broccoli, there are a few things you should keep in mind:
- The first thing to check is the color. A fresh vegetable looks bright. Avoid browning or wilted tops with holes, dark spots or molds.
- The leaves should look fresh, green and peaky. If you find missing leaves, chances are that it’s an old vegetable and the seller has removed the browning leaves.
- The stem should be firm and not wilted or browned.
- The florets should be densely packed together.
Ideally, you should cook the broccoli within 24 hours. If not, keep it in the fridge. You can also break up the florets and store them in a ziplock pouch. Do not wash the vegetable before storing. Wash it just before cooking. Use the vegetable within a week.
How to Cook Romanesco Broccoli?
The Romanesco broccoli looks interesting enough to tempt the pickiest of eaters. But what may keep them coming back for more is its unique and delicious flavor. It has an earthy taste that is slightly nutty and sweet. It can be cooked like broccoli or cauliflower.
Preparing the Vegetable
The leaves and stem of romanesco broccoli are all edible. However, it is usually just the florets that are eaten. You can use the stems by cutting, blanching, and adding them to salads, soups, or curries. To get the florets, cut the stem at the base along with leaves. You will be left with the dense head of the broccoli. You can break off the florets by hand or cut them with a sharp knife. Wash the florets thoroughly before cooking.
Here are a few suggestions on cooking the broccoli:
- Roasting: Break off the florets and toss them with oil. Roast them with just a sprinkle of salt. Alternatively, prepare a spice mix with oil, salt, cumin, and other spices that you prefer. Toss the florets in this spice mix and roast.
- Blanching: Add the florets to boiling water and blanch them for about 5 minutes. Drain and immediately dunk them in an ice bath. This is known as shocking. It is essential to retain the vibrant color of the vegetable. Otherwise, the vivid green would dull. This is a great way to prep your meals. You can use the blanched florets in salads, curries, noodles, or a quick side dish.
- In curry: Add the florets as you would any cauliflower or broccoli.
- As steak: For a steak, you have to cut the romanesco broccoli from the top, running your knife cleanly through the center and the stem. You can then further cut the two parts as wedges. Rub these parts generously with spices and roast them in an oven or fry them in a pan with a little bit of butter.
- In a salad: Use the blanched florets to prepare an easy salad. A simple lemon dressing with butter and flaked almonds go well with the earthy taste of the romanesco broccoli.
- In pasta: Add the florets as you would any other broccoli.
- In a gratin: Use the florets along with other vegetables for an elegant gratin. You can also go with just the romanesco.
- As fritters: Coat the florets in a chickpea flour paste with spices and deep fry. You can serve these with a dip or ketchup.
- As a side: The romanesco broccoli makes a beautiful veggie side-dish, whether you choose a salad, a gratin, or a pan roast.