Exotic romanesco has a lot of taste but short season

McClatchy News ServicesSeptember 19, 2012 

Imagine the psychedelic lovechild of broccoli and cauliflower with lime green British punk hair, and you have something close to romanesco.

Romanesco broccoli is an edible flower with distinctive pointy, green florets. Cavolo broccolo romanesco, as it is known in Italian, has become increasingly popular in American cooking in the past decade, but this hybrid vegetable dates back to the 16th century.

In addition to its peculiar aesthetic, romanesco’s appeal is its firm texture and earthy flavor. It is surprisingly sweet when cooked tender, like cauliflower but with a denser texture that holds up to lots of cooking methods.

Both in its native Lazio and the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, romanesco’s season is very brief. Look for it for the next several weeks at your local farmers market. It’s hard to miss.

Romanesco can be served raw, lightly cooked or cooked through. I usually saute it slowly with garlic and lemon zest, and punctuate with red pepper flakes for zing.

Romanesco alla Diavola 1 large or 2 medium heads (about 2 pounds) romanesco (or use regular cauliflower)

1 cup brine-cured green olives, pitted

3 tablespoons salt-packed capers, rinsed and drained

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley

Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons

1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes

Kosher or sea salt

10 garlic cloves

Fill a large bowl with ice and cold water. Cut the romanesco into small florets, submerge them in the ice water, and set aside to soak for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine olives, capers, parsley and lemon zest on a chopping board, and chop together until minced.

In a small pot, heat the 1/3 cup oil and the red pepper flakes over medium-low heat until hot. Remove from the heat, and stir in the olive mixture, 1 teaspoon salt, and the lemon juice. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add 2 tablespoons salt. Drain the romanesco from its ice bath, drop it into the boiling water, and add the garlic cloves. Cook until the florets are just tender, 5 minutes. Drain well, and separate out the garlic cloves. Add the cooked garlic cloves to the olive-caper dressing.

Place the dressing in a large bowl, add the romanesco, and toss well. Taste, and add more salt, red pepper flakes, and/or lemon juice as needed. Serve hot or at room temperature, drizzled with the remaining olive oil. (If serving at room temperature, adjust the seasoning again before drizzling with oil.)

Serves 8 to 10 as a side dish. Mario Batali is the owner of Babbo, Lupa, Otto and other renowned restaurants. His latest book is “Molto Batali,” published by Ecco.

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