Romanesco Cauliflower: Found at Weiser Family Farms stands at many Los Angeles farmers’ markets. From the grocery store: Choose regular cauliflower.
I have been curious about this fantastical looking vegetable ever since I first noticed it at a street market in Rome, about 5 years ago. Now it is available in Los Angeles, but so far I have only seen it at farmers’ markets. Its wondrous shape, reminding me of a bouquet of tiny cones, is described mathematically as a fractal, but I like to think of it as a natural art form. The flavor is more delicate than regular cauliflower, with slightly nutty nuances, and it has a more tender texture.
Roasted, this highly nutritious vegetable makes a satisfying side dish, or, as in the recipe below, can be the star of a pasta creation. Simply cut off the florets, starting at the base and working up towards the tip, and then toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook in a hot oven until brown in spots, crispy on the outside yet yielding in the center.
Romanesco is also wonderful raw, and becomes a crunchy conversation piece on a crudité platter. It goes well with yogurt spiked with garam masala or curry powder and minced fresh cilantro; mayonnaise and yogurt mixed with chopped scallions and lemon juice; tahini flavored with fresh lemon juice and ground cumin and thinned with a little water; or anything in which you like to dip regular cauliflower.
Last night I cooked the miniature cauliflower cones in a chickpea and kale soup, seasoned with onions, minced fresh ginger, red pepper flakes, and lemon zest and juice.
Here is a recipe to get you started with Romanesco, but this pasta is also excellent with regular cauliflower.
Spaghetti with Romanesco Cauliflower and Olives
- 20 ounces Romanesco cauliflower, about 2 large or 3 medium heads or regular cauliflower
- 2½ tablespoons olive oil
- Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 5 ounces gluten-free spaghetti
- 3 large shallots, sliced into thin rounds
- Scant ¼ teaspoons red pepper flakes
- ¼ cup chopped pitted kalamata olives
- ½ cup chopped Italian parsley
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more to pass at the table
- 1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, optional
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. Using a small sharp knife, and starting at the base of the Romanesco cauliflower, cut off the florets, or cut regular cauliflower into 1-inch florets. Place the cauliflower in a large bowl. Add 1½ tablespoons of the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Transfer the cauliflower to a heavy, rimmed baking sheet. Place in the oven and roast until the cauliflower is brown in spots and almost tender, stirring once, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven.
- Add the pasta to a large pot of boiling salted water, and cook until just tender but still firm to the bite, about 10 minutes.
- While the pasta cooks, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and red pepper flakes and sauté until the shallots start to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the cauliflower and cook until hot, about 3 minutes.
- Ladle off 1 cup of water from the pasta and reserve; drain the pasta. Add the pasta, and olives to the skillet. Add the reserved 1 cup pasta cooking water and stir over medium heat until the liquid thickens slightly and the mixture is blended, about 30 seconds. Mix in the parsley, 1/3 cup cheese, and 1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide the pasta between 2 warmed plates. Serve right away, passing more cheese at the table.