A recent trip to the German Coast Farmers’ Market yielded a locally grown, fresh broccolo romanesco, yet another typically Italian vegetable that has found its way to American gardens and tables. At first glance, it’s a striking plant, looking a bit like a geometric cauliflower, a broccoli with obsessive-compulsive disorder, or the favorite food of a dinosaur. The spring-green color stands in contrast to wintry cauliflower (or to the Carnival-festival gold and purple varieties), and the flavor is a milder take on its Brassica oleracea siblings (the sprawling clan includes all forms of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, broccoli rabe, brussels sprouts, and more).
Broccolo romanesco can substitute for cauliflower in most any recipe, but I decided to treat it like the Romans do. I braised it, broken into small florets, until fork-tender with a little white wine, red pepper flakes, and a few pieces of crisped pancetta, then added whole-milk ricotta, grated pecorino, and cooked (whole wheat) penne pasta. It was a substantial dish, perfect for last week’s wintry weather.
Now that the weather is a bit warmer, I think I’ll use it in a curry to serve alongside grilled, tandoori-style chicken.