Romanesco, or Roman Broccoli as they call it in Italy, is one of those vegetables that is just plain old fun to cook with. Its striking color and unusual shape keep things interesting, and its subtle cauliflowerish flavor is lovely. I recently took an excellent class at Cooking Classes in Rome with Chef Andrea Consoli, and we made a terrific spicy romanesco dish. I made a few tweaks to the recipe from class and this is the result.
Spicy Romanesco with Parmesan Ingredients (serves 4):
1 head of romanesco, washed and cut into florets
5 cloves of garlic, whole with their skin
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon of chili pepper flakes or spicy paprika
1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese
Begin by chopping the romanesco into bite-sized florets. I think they look kind of like mini Christmas trees, making this a perfect holiday side dish! Wash the florets and put them in a large saute pan with water to blanche. Simmer for 5 – 7 minutes and strain when the florets become tender. Save 1 cup of the cooking water to use later.
Leave the florets to the side in a strainer and add the olive oil and garlic to the empty pan. Interestingly, traditional Italian cooking suggests leaving the skins on cloves of garlic when using them in dishes like this one. The garlic skins have beneficial antioxidants that are typically lost when the skins are discarded. Instead, smash each clove of garlic with the flat blade of a knife so the skin opens, and toss the cloves into the olive oil with the skins. Saute on medium heat for 5 minutes to infuse the oil before adding the romanesco florets.
Add the chili pepper flakes and half a cup of the reserved blanching water while you saute the romanesco (add more of the reserved water if needed later in the saute). Continue cooking for 5 – 7 minutes, or until the florets are cooked through and beginning to brown on the edges. Pull off the heat, sprinkle with parmesan cheese, and serve hot.
If you’re lucky enough to get one of the cooked cloves of garlic in your serving, simply remove the remaining peel and eat. The garlic will be well-cooked and have a mellow, garlicky flavor. You can also remove the cloves before serving if you prefer.
The unique shape of the romanesco comes from cross-breading between broccoli and cauliflowers back in the 15th Century by Italian farmers. It is a member of the Brassica family and known for having strong anti-carcinogenic properties. Because of its similar flavor profile and nutritional properties, it can be easily swapped for broccoli or cauliflower in recipes.