I’m not sure if I like Romanesco because I enjoy the way its name rolls off the tongue, because it’s such an odd conical shape and bright green color, or because I adore all produce hailing from the Brassicaceae or Cruciferae Family (aka mustard family) that also includes the likes of broccoli, cauliflower, and kale. It could also be because it’s a delicious edible flower with what seems like endless aliases including Roman cauliflower, Broccolo Romanesco, Romanesque cauliflower, and Broccoflower. In the end though, I think it all comes down to the fact that everything about Romanesco is quirky, fun, and delightful.
Romanesco (Brassica oleracea var. Botrytis) is known for its beautiful spiral pattern, called the Fibonacci sequence. This sequence, which is also seen in pinecones and pineapples, sets this plant apart, giving it a very distinct look. Romanesco originated in Italy in the 16th century and was once grown exclusively in Rome. This unique looking Italian heirloom now grows in various locations.
If you want to try your hand at growing this Italian beauty, know that it does grow similar to broccoli and cauliflower, but is a bit more temperamental and water intensive. You can begin your garden plants using seeds or seedlings. In either case, keep the Romanesco moist, and as plants grow water them 2x/week, keeping at least the top half foot of soil moist. If you choose to sow seeds, plant them indoors about 6 weeks prior to the last expected frost date. When you’re ready to plant outdoors, be sure to harden the seedlings 1 week prior to planting when daytime temperatures exceed 45°F to ensure better success. Do not place seedlings in direct sunlight during hardening.
As you get ready to plant your seedlings, find a sunny location in your garden that has been amended with organic soil and sow 2’ apart. It can be beneficial to add bone meal around your Romanesco plants to add phosphorus, since an imbalance between nitrogen and phosphorus can result is lush plants, but no harvestable heads. Keeping soil pH around 7.5 can help prevent Romanesco from developing the fungal disease known as club root. If you find your Romanesco, or any of your mustard family plants are suffering from cabbage caterpillars, try using floating row covers and also be diligent about removing the pests by hand.
After 3-4 months, your Romanesco should be ready to harvest. When harvesting, individual stalks or the entire heads can be cut from the base of the plant using a sharp knife. Heads that are dense and uniform in color are ready for harvest. Once cut, Romanesco can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Romanesco isn’t only unique in looks, it’s also exceptional for its nutritional properties. For 1 cup (100 grams) of Romanesco you will get 30 calories, <1 gram of fat, 3 grams of protein, 6 grams of carbohydrates (3 grams of which is dietary fiber). This tasty flower is an excellent source of Vitamin C. It’s also a good source of Vitamin B-6 and provides Vitamins A, B-1 (Thiamin), B-2 (Riboflavin), and B-3 (Niacin), and the minerals calcium, copper, non-heme iron, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, and zinc.
However, Romanesco’s exceptional nutrition can really be seen in the phytochemicals it possesses. These phytochemicals include kaempferol, sulforaphane, and isothiocyanate. These compounds are known to be anti-inflammatory and have the ability to destroy cancer cells and prevent their formation. Plus, this fantastic flower can help control blood sugar levels and is known for being easy to digest and suitable for those with sensitive GI tracts. Zinc content is another benefit of Romanesco because it can help those that have suffer from ageusia and dysgeusia control those conditions.
If you want to enjoy the wonderful eye-catching qualities and the nutritional profile Romanesco offers, you can include it in most any dish that would call for cauliflower. Just be sure to reduce cooking times and know the taste will be slightly nuttier and spicier, and the color will be on the neon green side. Romanesco is a great addition to simple sautéed vegetable dishes because it tastes great drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper, and adds such pleasing color to the dish. One of my favorite main dishes to put this versatile vegetable in is below:
Chicken Thighs with Romanesco Sauce
8 chicken thighs
Olive oil for frying chicken thighs
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 small head Romanesco, leaves removed and coarsely chopped
½ cup soaked and roasted almonds
1 – 16 oz. jar roasted red bell peppers, drained, rinsed, and coarsely chopped
2 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
½ cup of chicken stock
½ cup fresh parsley leaves
Juice from 1 lemon and 1 orange
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 Bulgarian carrot pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup white balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Heat enough olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat to fry chicken thighs
Season chicken with salt and pepper
Cook chicken 10-15 minutes on each side
While chicken is frying, place all sauce ingredients in a food processer
Blend until smooth
Carefully pour sauce over chicken
Cover and simmer for 30 minutes
Plate and serve
This is a recipe that is what I like to call “open for interpretation”. As long as you keep the Romanesco and some sort of nut included in the recipe, you can pretty much get creative with the rest of the ingredients. It can even become a vegan dish if you replace the chicken with an additional cup of nuts (any kind you like) and replace the chicken stock with vegetable stock and treat it like a hearty soup. You can even add more and/or different vegetables and spices too if you want. So be open and interpret this recipe for Romanesco any way you like.
Now, if I am just creating a side dish I love putting Romanesco and capers together. The salad below is an excellent recipe to do just that.
Romanesco Capers Salad
1 small head of Romanesco, leaves removed and finely chopped
4 large ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
1 small yellow bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 small red onion, cut in thin slices
2 tablespoon preserved lemon peel, finely chopped
3 tablespoons capers
3 tablespoons avocado oil
Juice from 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Place all ingredients in a large bowl
Toss until well combined and coated
Refrigerate for 30 minutes
Plate and serve
So, main dish, side dish, or even if you just want to enjoy it raw, Romanesco is great for it all!
Allowing this edible flower a little patience, and plenty of water, will give you a beautiful resulting crop and delicious produce to add to your culinary creations. With it’s one of a kind look, numerous nutritional benefits, and delightful flavor, Romanesco is a must have in your garden and kitchen.
Linus Pauling Institute. 2017. Oregon State University. Phytochemicals. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/dietary-factors/phytochemicals
Mahr, S. June 11, 2011. University of Wisconsin. Master Gardner Program. University of Wisconsin-Extension. Romanesco. https://wimastergardener.org/article/romanesco/