Romanesco is the pretty sister of the brassica family. It has a gorgeous chartreuse hue with a fascinating spiral formation. Even with this beauty status it faces an identity crisis — sometimes it’s called romanesco broccoli, or romanesco cauliflower, but really it’s a vegetable variety all of its own, just romanesco. Not to pick favorites, okay to pick favorites, “just romanesco” in my opinion the tastiest of the brassicas. With such beauty and flavor, you can see why the humbler veg sisters are out to confuse you.
Romanesco has a nutty, almost nutmeg, flavor with a creamy freshness that is a welcome change to the normal winter rotation of cauliflower and broccoli. When picking romanesco look for tight formation of florets, greens attached and looking fresh, no wilting.
This beauty is delicious simply steamed with killer extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt. To prepare, cut it straight down the middle first and then cut the florets off the core. If you have any large florets, slice those in half down the middle, that way you can see the beautiful triangular formation on the inside.
Below, I’m sharing my favorite step-up for romanesco. I developed this recipe for my recent Italian cooking class at the Four Seasons Biltmore. The extra flavors here take it to another level. Sort of like wearing designer shoes with a designer dress — not always needed, but always fabulous.
For the cooking class, I served this with a pan-seared rib eye for cold winter nights. This weekend it may be more weather appropriate to fire up your grill for some Santa Barbara Tri-Tip. This dish is great both served warm right off the stove or at room temperature.
Bagna Cauda Romanesco with Toasted Almonds
Serves six as an appetizer, four as a side
Note: Don’t skip toasting the nuts, it enhances the flavors of the almonds and makes them so sweet and well, nutty.
1 medium size romanesco, cut into florets
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for finishing
2 anchovy filets, packed in oil
2 garlic cloves
Zest of one lemon (Meyer, if you have it) plus a few tablespoons of lemon juice
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon mint leaves, torn (optional)
In salty water, blanch the florets for 3 minutes. When done, reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. While the florets cook, toast the almonds in a large dry sauté pan over medium heat. Once they turn slightly golden and smell delicious remove them to a bowl.
Gather all of your ingredients and mircoplane grater. Wipe out the pan used for nuts with a clean towel and return to stove over medium-high heat and pour in olive oil. Add the anchovies, breaking them up with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a paste. With a microplane grater, great in garlic and lemon zest.
Take care to adjust your heat if things get too hot — you don’t want the garlic to burn – just turn golden and fragrant. Next, add the red pepper flakes — that’s all it takes, your sauce is ready!
Add the blanched romanesco to the pan and coat with the sauce. Add the reserved cooking liquid and a healthy pinch of kosher salt and black pepper. Cook about 5-7 minutes until the romanesco is warmed through and slightly golden on the edges, the water will evaporate during this time. Add the nuts and lemon juice, toss to coat and taste! Garnish with mint (if using), sea salt and top shelf olive oil.
My next cooking class and dinner with the Four Seasons Biltmore will be on March 24th featuring my favorite fresh, family spring recipes. Call 805.565.8237 to reserve your spot. I’ll have more details out soon!