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A conversation with Romanesco

So the other day I was walking through Shelton’s Natural Foods Market, scoping out the produce section and piecing together dinner for the evening when I came across an oddly shaped, vibrant green fellow tucked alongside a wall of kale. The sign read: Romanesco Broccoli. “Oh yeah!” I said to myself, I saw this crazy thing on the Food Network once. Romanesco was not on the menu for the evening, so I left him behind.

A day or two passed and I couldn’t get Romanesco out of my mind. I kept thinking about him sitting there, ignored by every passerby – despite the Shelton’s Market Garden tag above his head. Like a puppy left behind, I couldn’t resist the urge to buy him. So I went back and found him lying right where I remembered − next to the leafy greens, and took him home with me.

Upon arriving home, I set him down and stared quizzically, pondering my next move. Uncertainty set in before I decided to have a conversation with him; and this is how it went down.

Me: What exactly are you?

Romanesco: Well I’m often compared to broccoli or cauliflower. There’s a lot of debate about where I came from and what I am. Some call me cabbage, some broccoli, some cauliflower; but the short answer is, I am an edible flower of the species, Brassica oleracea (ie: cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collard greens)

Me: You’re awfully psychedelic looking – where do you believe your origin is?

Romanesco: My heritage is Italian. If you ask my Dad, and me, we’ll say we are a special Italian variety of broccoli. Our ancestors date back to the 16th century.

Me: Hmm. Very interesting. When and where can people find you?

Romanesco: Generally, I’m available late summer and up until the first frost. I’m typically only found in local grocery stores with a diverse selection of produce, or at farmers markets.

Me: Yes, of course…

Romanesco: You’re kind of looking at me strangely; what’s your deal?

Me: Oh, forgive me. I’m sure you get this a lot, but you’re absolutely gorgeous – in a weird alien sort of way though. I feel as though I’m looking at Marvin the Martian’s fecal mater, yet I’m completely astounded and unbelievably attracted to you.

Romanseco: Actually, no I’ve never heard that before. I mean beautiful yes, alien-esque, yes. But never have I been compared to Martian poop. If you can’t conduct this interview in a professional manner, then I’m going to have to leave.

Me: No, no, I apologize. I often don’t perfectly formulate my thoughts before they leave my mouth. You are very attractive, in all the best ways possible. Just how big can your spirals get?

Romanseco: Apology accepted. I’m often misunderstood. People are typically put off by my looks. My growth usually creates ornate twists that are about 4 to 5 inches long.

Me: Fascinating. What do you taste like?

Romanesco: I offer a distinct nutty flavor described as more intense than broccoli; a hybrid of broccoli and cauliflower, if you will.

Me: Sounds delicious. How would you prepare yourself to be eaten?

Romanesco: Well you have to be careful and not overcook me; otherwise you will end up with a rather unpleasant texture. Overall I’m fairly versatile; a simple Italian preparation would be to mix me together with some pasta, garlic, chili flake, pecorino cheese, and maybe finished off with a touch of lemon zest.

Me: That sounds delicious! What about if you added some pancetta or bacon?

Romanesco: Yeah, that would be good too. Hey, what are you doing with that knife?

Me: Making dinner.

Orecchiette with romanesco

1 1/2 Cups Orecchiette

1 head of romanesco broccoli (cut into florets)

3 slices of bacon, roughly chopped (or pancetta)

1 TBSP olive oil

1 Clove garlic, minced

1 TSP chili flake

1/8 Cup dry white wine

1/4 Cup grated pecorino cheese

1-2 TSP lemon zest

Salt and pepper to taste

Boil water for pasta. While water is coming to a boil, cook bacon in separate pan. Before adding pasta to boiling water, add romanesco florets and blanch for 1-2 mins; remove and dry. Add pasta to boiling water. While pasta is cooking, heat oil in pan at med-high temperature and add romanesco. Sauté for 2-3 mins, getting a good sear on the florets. Add garlic and chili flake, salt and pepper, and sauté another 5 mins. Add wine to pan and cover with lid and turn down heat to simmer. Simmer for 5 mins or until wine has evaporated. By this time pasta should be done. Drain pasta and add to pan. Stir bacon into pan and combine with other ingredients. Top with grated pecorino cheese and add lemon zest to each serving to taste.

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