Explainers

What is romanesco?

It looks like a cauliflower from outer space. We explain the history of the luminous vegetable, and how to cook with it.

By Emiko Davies

What is romanesco?

Broccolo romanesco is from the same family as cauliflower and broccoli but it has a more delicate flavour and bright green florets that are tightly packed in conical clusters. It hails from Lazio, where it's still widely grown, and is harvested from autumn until early spring.

How do I use it?

Romanesco is often made into a pasta sauce with pancetta, worked into a romanesco lasagne, or eaten as a side dish. In its native region, a traditional soup combines the florets with broken spaghetti and skate. Whatever the preparation, be wary of overcooking it; romanesco's alluring shape is best retained by keeping it al dente.
In Italy, romanesco is handled a little differently to many other brassicas (which often get the twice-cooked treatment). In Pellegrino Artusi's 1891 Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, for example, he sautés raw "broccoli romani", along with its most tender leaves, with olive oil and garlic, finishing it with white wine, a splash of water, and salt and pepper. Another option is to batter the florets and fry them. In Tuscany, deep-fried seasonal vegetables are a popular side dish or antipasto; anything and everything gets fried. Hence the saying: fritta è buona anche una ciabatta – even a slipper is good deep-fried.

What do the chefs say?

Vito Mollica of Florence's Michelin-starred Il Palagio recommends tossing romanesco with the classic combination of aglio, olio and peperoncino – more or less in the style of Artusi, but with chilli.
Gabriele Bonci from Rome's celebrated Pizzarium, meanwhile, goes outside the square, cooking it "strascinati" – literally meaning "dragged" across a pan – until tender, then stuffs warm focaccine with the cooked romanesco, fresh mozzarella and mackerel.

Romanesco broccoli fritters

Serves 4 as an antipasto or side dish.
Recipe by Emiko Davies.

Ingredients

  • 400 gm romanesco (about half a head), cut into bite-sized florets, no thicker than 3cm
  • vegetable oil
Batter
  • 70 gm flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 60 ml white wine
  • salt and pepper

Method

  • 1
    To prepare the batter, combine batter ingredients in a bowl and mix until just combined. Rest batter in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or until needed.
  • 2
    Pour vegetable oil into a saucepan (enough so the florets can float in it), then place saucepan over medium heat and heat oil to 170ºC.
  • 3
    Dip florets in the cold batter, let excess batter run off, then fry in batches, turning occasionally,
    until golden and crisp outside and al dente inside (2-2½ minutes). Drain on paper towels, season with salt and serve immediately.
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  • Author: Emiko Davies