Have you ever seen a head of romanesco? You probably have but just thought it was an alien looking lime-green cauliflower. In fact romanesco is a cousin of cauliflower and brocolli. It's also referred to as romanesco broccoli or Roman cauliflower. It has unique florets that form perfect repetitive spiral cones rising from the stalks. Belonging to the cabbage family, romanesco are native to the Lazio region of Italy and have been around since Roman times. In Italy the vegetable is used in a variety of dishes and is often tossed with pasta.
Here I give romanesco the Italian treatment. I roast it at high heat, which makes it tender and sweet, almost caramelized in flavor. This technique also preserves the bright green color. On the same tray I roast a few cloves of garlic, which I then mash and add to the pasta dish. Combine the vegetables with any short pasta. I use penne, the ridges of which collect the simple sauce made from pasta water, a splash of cream, grated pecorino Romano cheese, and olive oil. It makes for a very appealing meal that's great for lunch or dinner.
Find romanesco, as I did, at your local farmers' market in the fall and winter months. Luckily I grabbed the last head to create this dish, but if you cannot find it, substitute cauliflower or broccoli. At the market this past Saturday I saw white, orange, and pale-green cauliflower as well as green and purple broccoli. You can really make this a colorful dish with a combination of all those vegetables. Romanesco can be prepared in many different ways including sautéing, boiling, and roasting. It's also great raw with a selection of other vegetables for a winter crudité appetizer.
This fall I'm participating in A Way to Garden's first Fall Fest, a continuation of Summer Fest. Every Wednesday a summer produce will be the theme. This Wednesday it's cabbages. To participate all you have to do is something as simple as leaving a comment or linking to a favorite blog post or informational site. You can share gardening tips, recipes, and/or pictures. Visit the Fall Fest link for more information. Many other blogs are participating and it would be great to see how far the conversation goes.
Pasta with Roasted Romanesco
1 head romanesco (1-1/2 to 2 pounds), cut into small florets
3 garlic cloves, skins on
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound penne
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 cup grated pecorino Romano, plus more for serving
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine romanesco and garlic on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper; toss to combine. Roast, tossing now and then, until romanesco is knife tender, about 20 minutes.
Press garlic from skins. Mash with a knife or fork until a paste forms.
Meanwhile, cook penne according to package directions in a large pot of liberally salted water until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water.
Drain pasta and return to pot. Add romanesco and garlic paste; toss to combine. Add half the pasta water, cream, and cheese, toss until a light sauce forms. Add the remaining pasta water if needed. Drizzle with olive oil. Serve with grated cheese. Yield: 4 servings.