Molecular gastronomists take pains to showcase the science of food, cleverly manipulating the laws of nature to aid their efforts (hydrocolloids, anyone?). But the logarithmic spirals of the Romanesco broccoli are nature's own bit of scientific grandstanding.
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More tender than cauliflower, and more visually interesting than most of its fellow brassicas, a tightly packed head of romanesco brings the art of nature's science to your plate without liquid nitrogen or rotary evaporators. Added bonus? It's tasty. Nutty, slightly sweet, and just a little grassy, but only in season for another month or so.
Alex Weiser of Weiser Family Farms sells a baby version of the Romanesco. He's a big fan of their delicate conical spirals and treats them gingerly when putting them into a bag so as not to blunt the points.
"It is one of the most beautiful and mathematical vegetables out there," says Weiser. "It tastes like cauliflower but it lacks the bitter aftertaste." Makes it a great addition to a raw crudite platter. It also keeps its vivid lime green color when cooked, making for a pretty plating alongside plainer winter veggies. Roasted, the Romanesco goes nutty and rich, and while we hate losing its visual charm, it makes an excellent soup puree.
Weiser says that he'll have the Romanesco as long as it stays chilly out. It is technically a flower and warmer weather causes all those little spirals to erupt into a puffy springtime gloriole. Look for firm and tightly packed spirals and if there are leaves attached, make sure they are fresh and rigid and not floppy and rubbery. They should be around into March, but if you're interested, get them now.