During his Nobel Prize banquet, Richard Feynman credited his imagination for continuously dumping him into unknown universes where "nature's pattern of beauty and true majesty [were] revealed." He often found this "true majesty" in fractals -- self-similar patterns often studied by Feynman and his fellow physicists. In nature, and at the farmers market, you can experience those ordered and swirling mathematical statements in several different types of fruits and vegetables -- bitter melon, pineapples and leaf patterns in kale and chard. But the queen of natural fractal patterning is Romanesco broccoli.
If you have trouble getting your kids to eat their vegetables, Romensco to the rescue, though there may be more looking and picking than eating. They're a great intro to physics, and if you really want to send the kids down the science rabbit hole, tell them the number of spirals on the head of Romanesco broccoli is a Fibonacci number. Won't help them eat better, but they'll never look at their plate the same way again.
Science schmience, what's important is they're in season. Finley Farms out of Santa Ynez has a beautiful bumper crop sharing table space with piles of vibrantly purple cauliflower.
Romanesco, also known as Roman cauliflower or the more quaint Broccoflower, is a cool-weather crop that shares genes with kale, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and, yes, broccoli. Those tightly wrapped spiral heads are actually flower buds, but they'll stay tight until warmer weather hits, so you'll be able to find them into early spring.
Bucking conventional wisdom in farming, frosty nights are actually a great thing for Brassicas like Romanesco. Frosts trigger water movement from the plant above ground into the roots, lowering the water concentration above and raising the sugar. This past week has been perfectly frosty up throughout Southern California farmland and our local market vendors usually pick only a day or two before market. They'll be picking fast, too. Frosts also attract local deer in search of sweet winter forage. Venison, anyone?
Several farmers are carrying Romanesco this season, which is an improvement from last year's warm winter (see Watermelon Radish). Finley carries large to medium-sized heads while others, like Weiser Family Farms, often harvest them when they reach about a fist size.
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