How gorgeous is this Romanesco Broccoli? I stumbled upon it one at my local Whole Foods and I was mesmerized. I don’t even like most green food, but this one had me so intrigued: what was it, how does it taste, what dishes can be made with it, how is it prepared? What do chefs and home cooks alike create with it?
I held off on putting it in the cart at my husband’s insistence that “just because something looks cool doesn’t mean you should buy it”. Which is, as every wife knows, the universal marital term for Challenge Accepted. As I sipped my glass of wine and finishing up the rest of my grocery shopping, it stayed on my mind. Sip. How have I never seen a romanesco broccoli before? Sip. Are they something new? Sip. And then I worried-are they only seasonal?! Sip. What if I come back and they’re gone? Sip.
You obviously see where this story is going….thud- into the shopping cart it goes. My husband knew it was going to happen, I knew it was going to happen, Whole Foods knew it was going to happen. Because…
Once I did a little research on this vegetable I quickly learned that the Romanesco broccoli might be the most visually stunning food Mother Nature has ever created. Grown in Italy since as early as the 16th century, Romanesco broccoli is in the same family as cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, etc. and it commonly also referred to as “Roman Cauliflower”. It’s a stunning spiral with a bright green chartreuse color. But it turns out, there’s another reason these vegetables look so cool: They’re actually one of the few naturally-occurring Fibonacci fractals in the world.
Now before I even attempt to explain what this means, I’ll be the first to admit that math in any way, shape or form is undoubtedly NOT my forte. As a matter of fact, if my 8-year-old self could see me now, I’d be horrified that I was writing an article on both green vegetables AND math of my own free will. I’ll be brief in my explanation, as my main motive for sharing this is to show how beautiful and amazing Mother Nature can be in her creations. She can turn something from such a humble upbringing as broccoli and nurture it into a stunning piece of art, not just food. I often feel that cooking, science and art are so heavily intertwined in each other that it’s often impossible to excel at the practice of any single one of them without having an understanding of the other two.
At it’s most basic, a fractal is a complex structure that when closely examined actually contain identical smaller copies of itself within it, and tinier copies of itself within that, therefore looking identical on a large and small scale. In the case of the romanesco broccoli if you look close you can see that each individual broccoli bud has it’s own set of identical buds within it, etc. that continues on until the broccoli ends (which is called an approximate fractal, since it doesn’t continue infinitely). There are naturally-occurring fractals all throughout nature from ferns to seashells, pineapples, sunflowers, even pinecones. But what really makes this shape unique is that it’s also what’s referred to as a Fibonacci fractal, taking it a step further.
An overhead view shows a spiral from the top that cascades down and around, each floret on the trail forming a Fibonacci spiral, where every quarter turn is farther from the origin by a factor of Phi, the golden ratio. Essentially it’s a self-similar spiral curve, the number of spirals on the head of each romanesco broccoli is a Fibonacci sequence. Essentially if you count the number of spirals in one direction and then in the other direction they will reliably and consistently follow the Fibonacci Sequence.
Interesting, huh? And here I just thought I was buying a head of broccoli!
In terms of taste, the romanesco is a combination between broccoli and cauliflower, but when roasted or charred they can take on a nutty aftertaste. You can absolutely treat it like you would standard broccoli or cauliflower, cutting off the floret spirals and blanching them in boiling water for 1-1 ½ minutes and then shocking in an ice bath to retain that chartreuse green hue. From there you can put them on salads, stir fry, crudités, pasta, pickled or in my favorite way- roasted on a baking sheet with garlic, shallots, olive oil or toasted sesame oil, and Parmesan cheese!
This method is easy and done to taste, and although I didn’t take pictures of it this time it’s a great method of roasting most vegetables, and one worth remembering! So ill review the basics and you can edit it however you’d like! You could add in some red chili flakes, black or white sesame seeds, etc.
Roasted Romanesco Broccoli with Shallots and Garlic
1 head of blanched romanesco broccoli (or regular broccoli can be substituted as well)
1-2 Tbsp salt
2 tsp pepper
2 tbsp olive oil, or (1 tbsp toasted sesame oil and 1 tbsp olive oil)
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
3 small shallots, sliced
1/3 C. Grated Parmesan cheese or Grana Padano
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, gently combine the broccoli florets, salt, pepper, olive oil, toasted sesame oil (if using), garlic and shallots. Place on the baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes, turning them halfway through so they cook evenly and don’t burn.
Top with the Parmesan cheese once they’re hot out of the oven so it melts right before serving.