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My Little Romance with Romanesco

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It is winter here in California. We have perfectly warm and sunny beach days that make people in colder climates jealous. As the last week of December goes by, a day of heat changes into crisp cool weather and back again. Then a spell of wind comes along and brings out the sparkle in everything.

The blustery wind blew my long hair all around my face while I walked to the market last Sunday morning. It was warm enough to wear one of my favorite sundresses, but as the breeze picked up, it became a wintery gust. My toes were suddenly brushed by the fallen leaves swirling along the sidewalk as I wore flip flop sandals. Looking around at the sky, enchanted by the beauty of the golden leaves above me shimmering with sunlight, I felt lighter, like everything was possible. The day, so lovely, the windswept walk to the market, the anticipation of what will be on display, hoping for earthy sweet bunches of carrots, large stalks of leeks, feathery green bouquets of kale and herbs.

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My children ran ahead and played along the grassy part of the park where the farmers’ market began. They skipped and giggled ahead of us, taking pleasure in the simple walk, commenting that they felt old-fashioned for doing so. We live so close to our local farmers’ market, just across the street. How lucky is that?

I had a few recipes in mind for our Sunday dinner, but I wait to explore the seasonal array of the market before deciding.

Then there was the Romanesco.

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It’s strangely beautiful head was nestled among the artichokes and white, purple and curry yellow cauliflower. We marveled at the Romanesco, its light green spiraled cone. We picked several heads up, weighing them with our hands, choosing just one to take home.

Last weekend I bought Romanesco and roasted the florets in olive oil, herbs, sea salt and pepper, mixing it with carrots, red onion and parsnips. It was wonderfully simple. Somewhere between broccoli and cauliflower, Romanesco is a fascinating vegetable. It’s name makes you feel so elegant, like you know something about vegetables from other countries. It’s origin is found in Italy, of course.

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This time I made Romanesco alla Primavera with baby carrots, fresh English peas, leeks and dark purple leaves of kale. Just the simplicity of whole wheat spaghetti tastes fresh with the market vegetables, olive oil and herbs. This pasta done alla primavera with Romanesco can also be served with a white wine cream sauce. Here it’s a healthy vegan recipe using olive oil, vegetable broth, leeks and herbs for seasoning and flavor. What makes this delicious is the fresh ingredients. There is no need for over seasoning when the vibrant taste of the garden comes through.

I’m smitten with Romanesco. You might find yourself using it when you can find it in season in place of cauliflower or broccoli, it’s subtle flavor so pleasing roasted, toss in pasta, or perhaps served au gratin.

SERVES 4–6

INGREDIENTS

8 tbsp. olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 leek, whites halved and chopped

1 head of Romanesco, cut in florets, blanched

1 cup peas, blanched

2 bunches baby carrots, chopped in circles

1 lb. whole wheat spaghetti, cooked al dente

splash of Marsala or dry sherry

1/2 cup of vegetable broth

To add after assembly:

sea salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup shredded kale

cilantro flowers or herbs for garnish

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Heat 4 tbsp. olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and leeks, cook until golden, about 4 minutes. Add a splash of Marsala or sherry. Let simmer. Add carrots, cook about 6-10 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of vegetable broth, Romanesco and peas; cook 4-6 minutes. Do not overcook the peas, adding them last.

2. When the pasta is ready, drizzle it with olive oil, then add the vegetable mixture with the halved cherry tomatoes and kale. Toss well. Season with sea salt and pepper, tossing more to combine.

3. Transfer to a large serving bowl and garnish with herbs.

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