Romanesco heads for sale at a Farmers Market.
Looking like an elaborate work of art or alien from space, romanesco is an uncommon vegetable frequently available only at local Farmer’s Markets or to grow from seed. Also called romanesco broccoli or Roman cauliflower (even though it is neither one), this unusual cultivar of Brassica oleracea dates back to the 16th century. It is sometimes mistakenly called broccoflower, but that name really refers to green-colored cauliflower. This Italian heirloom that was once grown exclusively around Rome produces striking light green heads composed of numerous cone-shaped florets, each one growing in a logarithmic spiral. The pointed groups of buds are a cluster of branched meristems arising from a central stem in a spiral arrangement, creating a fractal pattern (a self-similar pattern). The heads can be quite large, up to 5 pounds each.
Romanesco requires the same care and growing conditions as broccoli, and looks very similar to that other vegetable.
The strap-like leaves are a dark blue green typical of broccoli or cauliflower and the plants look very similar to those other vegetables when they are growing in the garden.
This cruciferous plant is as easy to grow as normal broccoli or cauliflower. Even though it is a cool season plant, it is best started indoors 4-6 weeks ahead of time and transplanted into the garden after the last frost.
Seedling (L) and young Romanesco plant (R).
Place the plants 18-24″ apart, in fertile, well-drained soil. Keep well watered and fertilize once or twice during the growing season. Romanesco plants are susceptible to the same insect and disease problems as other brassicas, so be on the lookout for cabbage caterpillars (imported cabbageworm (Pieris rapae), diamondback moth (Plutella xylostella) and cabbage looper (Trichoplusia ni). You can cover the plants with floating row cover to prevent the adults of those caterpillars from laying eggs on the leaves, but this can be challenging once the plants get large. Other controls include regular sprays of Bt or chemical insecticides labeled for use on cole crops.
A developing romanesco head.
Heads should be ready to harvest 75-100 days after transplanting. Once they are ready the entire head can be cut off with a sharp knife or individual stalks can be removed. Once the head is cut it does not typically produce new side shoots. Choose dense heads without any discoloration. Harvested heads can be stored in plastic in the refrigerator for about a week.
Harvested romanesco heads.
Open pollinated heirloom varieties tend to be quite variable in the size of heads produced as well as when they reach maturity. Newer varieties offer more compact plants with more uniform head size (and usually on the smaller size) and more predictable maturity. ‘Veronica’ is the most widely available named cultivar with reasonably sized heads.
Romanesco has a mild flavor, often described as “nutty, slightly spicy” with a texture similar to cauliflower. It can be prepared in a manner similar to cauliflower or broccoli – eaten raw or cooked – but it has a different flavor than either of those vegetables. Separate the florets and steam lightly until tender. Try drizzling them with olive oil and fresh lemon juice, instead of dressing with butter. Other ways to use romanesco include mixed with other sautéed vegetables, combined with pasta in a garlic sauce, or covered in a cheese sauce.
– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison
- Learn how to grow romanesco, growing romanesco broccoli is rewarding. It is a very decorative and ornamental cauliflower with exotic taste.
- Companion Plants
- Incompatible Plants
- Requirements for Growing Romanesco
- Romanesco Care
- Pests and Diseases
- Crop rotation
- Kalettes, Broccoflower And Other Eye-Popping Vegetables For 2015
- Types of Broccoli
- What Is Romanesco and How the Heck Do You Cook It?
- What Is Romanesco?
- How to Cook Romanesco
- Garlic-Roasted Lemon Romanesco Recipe
- Print Easy ideas for romanesco
- Romanesco Broccoli Care – How To Grow Romanesco Broccoli Plants
- What is Romanesco?
- How to Grow Romanesco
- Romanesco Broccoli Care
- How to grow romanesco
- Where to grow romanesco
- Growing romanesco from seed
- Caring for romanesco
- Harvesting romanesco
- Storing and cooking romanesco
- Romanesco: problem-solving
- Romanesco varieties to grow
- How to Grow and Care for Broccoflower
- Planting Broccoflower
- Broccoflower and Romanesco Pests, Problems, and Diseases
- Ways to Prepare Broccoflower
- Want to learn more about growing broccoflower and Romanesco?
- Related posts:
Learn how to grow romanesco, growing romanesco broccoli is rewarding. It is a very decorative and ornamental cauliflower with exotic taste.
USDA Zones — 3 – 11
Propagation Method — Seeds
Difficulty — Moderate
Other Names — Brassica oleracea botrytis (latin name), Romanesco broccoli Romanesco Cauliflower, Romanesque cauliflower, Buzzy Broc
Romanesco broccoli is also called “Broccoli Apple” and “Cauliflower with Turrets”. It is a Mediterranean plant, native to Italy, especially of Rome and is an Italian cousin of broccoli and cauliflower.
It is a very decorative and ornamental cauliflower with exotic taste. You can even grow it in the flower garden and admire it.
Romanesco is rich in vitamin C and minerals. It has a mild taste than other cauliflowers and slightly sweet flavor.
Seed sowing is done in spring and summer. If growing romanesco in cooler zones, sow the seeds 4 – 6 weeks prior to planting outside. Sow the seeds 2 cm deep. While planting the seedlings outside leave 50 cm (2 feet) of space in all directions.
If growing in subtropical and tropical zones you can plant it in fall or in winter.
Garlic, chives, shallots, strawberries, turnip, onion, parsnip, leek, radish, rutabaga, tomatoes.
Requirements for Growing Romanesco
Humus and compost rich soil that is well drained is recommended.
Growing romanesco in sunny spot for more yield.
Like most of the brassicas it enjoys frequent and regular watering.
Romanesco broccoli care is similar to other cauliflowers and cabbages.
Mix compost and 10 – 10 – 10 slow release fertilizer at the time of planting. Fertilize it with high in nitrogen fertilizer one month after planting.
Do mulching to keep the soil weed free and conserve moisture.
Pests and Diseases
Flea beetles, gall weevil, whiteflie, aphids and moths. Snails and slugs are fond of seedlings. Besides this it is infected by blight, clubroot and mildew.
Generally, romanesco is ready to harvest in 75 – 100 days after planting. Pick the head when they are tight and dense and use fresh as soon as possible.
Romanesco greatly exhausts the soil and should not be planted on the same spot before 4 or 5 years.
Kalettes, Broccoflower And Other Eye-Popping Vegetables For 2015
Kalettes, BrusselKale, Lollipop Kale and Flower Sprout: This little vegetable, a cross of kale and Brussels sprouts, goes by a lot of names. Rain Rabbit/Flickr hide caption
toggle caption Rain Rabbit/Flickr
Kalettes, BrusselKale, Lollipop Kale and Flower Sprout: This little vegetable, a cross of kale and Brussels sprouts, goes by a lot of names.
Does a cross between Brussels sprouts and kale sound like your vegetable dream come true? Maybe so, if you’re someone who’s crazy for cruciferous vegetables and all the fiber and nutrients they pack in.
Meet Kalettes, a hybrid of the two that looks like a small head of purple kale. It arrived in U.S. supermarkets like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods this fall, and is being marketed as “a fresh fusion of sweet and nutty.”
It’s not the only new hybrid vegetable that we may be seeing a lot more of in 2015. Kendall College, a culinary and hospitality school in Chicago, predicts that broccoflower, broccolini and rainbow carrots may also leap from the specialty fringes to the mainstream produce aisle, owing to their terrific flavor and good looks.
Why now? People are moving away from the comfort food they fell back on during the recession, says Christopher Koetke, vice president of Kendall’s School of Culinary Arts. “People are starting to say OK, I can be a little more adventuresome.”
Kalettes (Brussels sprouts crossed with kale):
“Those are two vegetables that are incredibly popular, and chefs are cooking them constantly,” says Koetke. But Kalettes: The British company Tozer Seeds came up with the idea to develop the hybrid, which also goes by BrusselKale and Flower Sprout, 15 years ago. Tozer debuted it in the U.K. in 2010 before launching it in the U.S. in 2014.
The flavor of kalettes is more subtle than that of Brussels sprouts, making it tasty raw or sauteed, says Koetke. He recommends roasting or blanching, much like you would Brussels sprouts.
Broccoflower was originally grown in Holland and hit the U.S. market in 1989. It’s remained a relatively specialty item since then, but culinary experts say it may soon become more widely available. Brand X Pictures/Getty Images hide caption
toggle caption Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
Broccoflower was originally grown in Holland and hit the U.S. market in 1989. It’s remained a relatively specialty item since then, but culinary experts say it may soon become more widely available.
Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
Broccoflower (broccoli crossed with cauliflower):
Broccoflower, a cauliflower with a pale green tint, was first grown in Holland and brought to the U.S. by Rick Antle of the family farm Tanimura and Antle in California. His farm coined the name Broccoflower and began distributing it in 1989.
The flavor is similar to a cauliflower but slightly sweeter. “Cook it and give it a whole smoke,” says Koetke, and “it develops a whole separate flavor profile.”
While it may not be an especially novel ingredient for chefs, the growing popularity of cauliflower may mean it’s ready to move from the farmers market into more supermarkets.
Sometimes called “baby broccoli,” broccolini is a more delicate version of broccoli. Robyn Mackenzie/iStockphoto hide caption
toggle caption Robyn Mackenzie/iStockphoto
Sometimes called “baby broccoli,” broccolini is a more delicate version of broccoli.
Broccolini (broccoli crossed with Chinese broccoli):
This cross, sometimes called baby broccoli, was first hybridized in 1993 in Yokohama, Japan, by Sakata Seed Co. Originally called “apabroc,” it wasn’t until 1998 that it began selling under the name broccolini.
It looks just like broccoli, but has longer stalks and smaller florets. Its taste is subtly sweet with a bit of pepper. Because of its slender stalk, it takes less time to cook than traditional broccoli. “Word to the wise: Keep a close eye on it because it overcooks relatively easily,” says Koetke.
Unlike broccoli, the side shoots of broccolini are the tasty part, while the main stalk of the vegetable is removed. This makes it a more labor-intensive vegetable to harvest. However, the stems of broccolini are “really delicious,” says Koetke, more delicious than broccoli stems.
You’ve maybe seen it at a farmers market or a specialty store, says Koetke, but its beauty, full flavor and cute name may help it soon reach a wider audience.
Rainbow carrots were originally developed by the USDA as an experiment to get more nutrients in food. Mark Skalny/Getty Images/iStockphoto hide caption
toggle caption Mark Skalny/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Rainbow carrots were originally developed by the USDA as an experiment to get more nutrients in food.
Mark Skalny/Getty Images/iStockphoto
The highly pigmented carrots — in a wild rainbow of purple, red and yellow — we see today were developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service in Madison, Wis. But purple and yellow carrots have been around more than 1,000 years, according to the World Carrot Museum.
The USDA breeders’ goal was to create carrots with extra beta carotene, which makes the carrots orange and is a key nutrient for us.
Their project worked: The average carrot now provides 75 percent more beta carotene than it did 25 years ago.
To do it, the USDA scientists didn’t just add extra orange; they also injected other pigments into carrots, including red lycopene, yellow xanthophylls and purple anthocyanins. These compounds guard against heart disease, help the eyes, and act as antioxidants, respectively. And now you can buy packs of rainbow carrot seeds.
You may not see these kooky carrots in fine dining restaurants, says Koetke. But he does hope to see them appear not just in supermarkets and farmers markets, but in school dining programs, too. As the “Fruit Loops of carrots,” he says, they might spur children to choose a healthier option.
As for Koetke’s dream hybrid vegetable? “An onion that also tasted like garlic,” he says. Chefs are always chopping up onions and mincing garlic. “Boy that would be amazing,” says Koetke. “You could eliminate one step.”
It might just be possible, since plant breeders have been hybridizing food crops for a while — centuries, actually.
“The general idea is that it’s a lot like breeding dogs or breeding cats,” says Ali Bouzari, a food biochemist at the University of California, Davis. “You need things that are biologically close enough related that they’re compatible with each other.”
For example, Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli and cauliflower all belong to the species Brassica oleracea, and all are now common crosses.
But it’s not the same as genetic engineering. “It’s just cross-breeding,” says Bouzari. “It’s horticulture.”
It’s actually easier to do this for vegetables than for fruits, says Bouzari, because you don’t have to wait for a whole tree to grow. Most hybrids — for example, the hybrid tomatoes that have become so ubiquitous — are created to boost yield or disease resistance or durability for traveling long distances to the supermarket.
Alison Bruzek is an intern for NPR’s science desk.
Types of Broccoli
Broccoli has become one of the most popular vegetables in the United States, and there are many varieties, relatives, and derivatives available in supermarkets and farmers’ markets. Here are some of the more common types of broccoli you may find.
Broccoflower: A cross between broccoli and cauliflower, this vegetable comes in two types: one that looks just like a green cauliflower, and another—usually called Romanesco, Romanesco broccoli, or Romanesco cauliflower—that also looks somewhat like a green cauliflower in shape but has distinctive spiky floret spirals forming ornate fractal-like patterns. The taste of both varieties is mild and more like cauliflower than broccoli. The texture of the non-Romanesco variety is similar to that of regular cauliflower, while the Romanesco variety is crunchier.
Broccolini: A cross between gai-lan (Chinese broccoli) and broccoli, this vegetable is sometimes sold as “baby broccoli,” which of course is just a marketing gimmick. Broccolini can be recognized by its deep green color and long, slender stalks ending in small buds, like broccoli florets. Sweeter and more tender than broccoli, broccolini is cooked by the same methods as its larger cousin, but will require a shorter amount of time. While some people peel broccoli stalks before using them, broccolini requires no peeling. Broccolini is somewhat more expensive than broccoli, but (like broccoli) it is completely edible, from stem to flower.
Broccoli rabe (rapini): Broccoli rabe is actually a different cruciferous species and is also known as rapini. It tastes similar to Chinese broccoli, or gai-lan (see below). It resembles gai-lan as well, though broccoli rabe’s edible flowers are yellow rather than white.
Calabrese broccoli: This is the most popular type of broccoli in the US and Canada, and the type most of us think of when we say “broccoli.” It has light green stalks topped by a compact head of umbrella-shaped clusters of green florets sometimes tinged with purple. This variety of broccoli is named after the Italian province of Calabria, where it was first grown.
Gai-lan (kai-lan): Also known as Chinese broccoli or Chinese kale, gai-lan is longer and leafier, with a more pungent and bitter flavor than common green broccoli. Similar in flavor to broccoli rabe, it can be eaten in its entirety, including the clusters of white flowers if they are present.
Purple broccoli: This compact-headed hybrid has small purple florets that turn green once cooked. While it looks more like purple cauliflower than broccoli, it tastes decidedly like broccoli.
Sprouting broccoli: This variety is closer in growing behavior to wild cabbage, and it likely existed before the common type of broccoli most of us eat today. Sprouting broccoli can be purple or green and has multiple smaller heads branching off its main stalk. It tastes identical to regular green broccoli.
Broccoli is an edible green plant with large flowering heads eaten as a vegetable. The word broccoli comes from the Italian plural of broccoli, which means “the flowering crest of a cabbage,” and is the diminutive form of brocco, meaning “small nail” or “sprout.” Broccoli is often boiled or steamed but may be eaten raw. Broccoli is classified in the Italic cultivar group of the species Brassica oleracea. Broccoli has large flower heads, usually green in color, arranged in a tree-like structure branching out from a thick, edible stalk. In our household, broccoli is lovingly called “trees.” The mass of flower heads is surrounded by leaves. Broccoli resembles cauliflower, which is a different cultivar group of the same species. I know–too much science.
Broccoli resulted from breeding of cultivated Brassica crops in the northern Mediterranean starting in about the 6th century BC. Since the time of the Roman Empire, broccoli has been commonly consumed among Italians. Combined in 2016, China and India produced 73 percent of the world’s broccoli and cauliflower crops. In Imperial Valley, in 2017, we produced 6,094,475 cases of broccoli valued at $94,806,000. That was a decline in units here, primarily due the cost of harvesting.
There are three commonly grown types of broccoli. The most familiar is Calabrese broccoli, often referred to simply as “broccoli”, named after Calabria, Italy. It has large green heads and thick stalks. It is a cool season annual crop. Sprouting broccoli has a larger number of heads with many thin stalks. Purple cauliflower is a type of broccoli grown in Europe and North America. It has a head shaped like cauliflower, but consisting of tiny flower buds. It sometimes, but not always, has a purple cast to the tips of the flower buds.
Broccoli does poorly in hot summer weather. Broccoli grows best when exposed to an average daily temperature between 64 and 73 F. When the cluster of flowers, also referred to as a “head” of broccoli, appear in the center of the plant, the cluster is green. Garden pruners or shears are used to cut the head about an inch from the tip. Broccoli should be harvested before the flowers on the head bloom bright yellow.
A 100-gram serving of raw broccoli provides 34 kcal and is an excellent source (20 percent or higher of the Daily Value, DV) of vitamin C and vitamin K. Raw broccoli also contains moderate amounts (10–19 percent DV) of several B vitamins and the dietary mineral manganese, whereas other essential nutrients are in low content. Broccoli has low content of carbohydrates, protein, fat, and dietary fiber. Broccoli also contains the carotenoid compounds lutein and zeaxanthin in amounts about six times lower than in kale.
Boiling broccoli reduces the levels of sulforaphane, with losses of 20–30 percent after five minutes, 40–50 percent after ten minutes, and 77 percent after thirty minutes. However, other preparation methods, such as steaming, microwaving, and stir frying had no significant effect on the compounds. We stir fry it with garlic (remember, Italians use garlic a lot).
One of the more unusual vegetables we’ve come across, Romanesco appears to be part psychedelic broccoli, part alien life form.
In fact, it’s an edible flower from the family that includes broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. It tastes very similar to cauliflower, but with a slightly nuttier, earthier flavor. You can use it as you would cauliflower in recipes, and it holds up to many different cooking methods.
“Romanesco can be served raw, lightly cooked, or cooked through,” said Mario Batali in a column for the Seattle Times last fall. “I usually sauté it slowly with garlic and lemon zest, and punctuate with red pepper flakes for zing.”
It’s also delicious steamed and lightly seasoned with olive oil and red wine vinegar.
Other recipes call for simply baking the cousin to cauliflower with salt, pepper and garlic powder.
RELATED: 25 Healthy-Plant Based Dinners
Of course, the most fascinating part of Romanesco is its appearance. Its spiraled buds form a natural approximation of a fractal, meaning each bud in the spiral is composed of a series of smaller buds. (Remember the Fibonacci sequence from school? The spirals follow the same logarithmic pattern).
The Romanesco (sometimes called Romanesco Broccoli or Roman Cauliflower) did not always exist in nature. Many botanists believe it was the result of selective breeding by Italian farmers in the 16th century.
Romanesco is in season during from late summer to early fall, and it can often be found at local farmers’ markets, especially along the Eastern Seaboard. Just as when shopping for regular broccoli or cauliflower, look for firm, heavy heads free from discoloration or withered florets. To store in the fridge, keep in a tightly sealed bag.
Have you tried Romanesco? What did you think?
Next up: You have to try the Pioneer Woman’s Curried Cauliflower
What Is Romanesco and How the Heck Do You Cook It?
You may have seen this alien-looking green thing lurking in cooler-season farmers’ markets, but probably haven’t tossed it into your eco-friendly tote since, ya know, you don’t have any idea what the heck it is or what you’d do with it.
Meet your new fave fall veggie, romanesco. Here’s everything you need to know.
Image zoom Aphelleon/Antonova Ganna/
What Is Romanesco?
This funky looking vegetable is also called Romanesco broccoli or Roman cauliflower, but it’s neither broccoli nor cauliflower. Some also call it broccoflower, but that name refers to green-colored cauliflower, which it is not. (It’s not broccolini or caulilini either.) Rather, romanesco is part of the brassica family along with cauliflower, cabbage, and kale. As such, it’s more closely related to cauliflower than broccoli. (Did you know there are a bunch of different types of kale?)
Romanesco dates back to 16th century Italy but didn’t debut in the U.S. until the 1990s. It has a texture similar to cauliflower but is slightly crunchier with a bit of a nutty flavor. It’s covered in cone-shaped florets that make it look sort of like a miniature Christmas tree. (Cute, right?)
It’s available during the late fall and winter and you’ll find it sold as a head (similar to cauliflower), which can be up to 5 pounds each (!!). You can probably find it at your local farmer’s markets or in select supermarkets when it’s in season. (Keep an eye out for these other fall fruits and veggies at the farmer’s market, too.)
Romanesco Nutrition Facts
One-half cup chopped romanesco provides 10 calories, 2 grams carbs, 1 gram fiber, 1 gram protein, and is fat-free. It also provides numerous vitamins and minerals including a whopping 90 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin K (important for bone and heart health) and 60 percent of the daily recommended amount of the antioxidant vitamin C. It’s also a good source of folate and vitamin A, providing 10 percent of the daily recommended amount of each. (Nutritionally, it’s pretty similar to broccoli: One-half cup of chopped broccoli provides 15 calories, 3 grams carbs, 1 gram fiber, 1 gram protein, and is fat-free.)
Buying and Storing Romanesco
When selecting Romanesco, look for heads that are bright in color and have their leaves still attached. The stems should be firm and show no signs of wilting. When you pick up a head, it should be heavy for its size. Once you bring it home, store your fresh Romanesco unwashed in a resealable plastic bag in the fridge for up to 1 week.
How to Cook Romanesco
You can prepare romanesco similar to cauliflower or broccoli—raw or cooked—but remember that it still has its own unique flavor.
- Blanch romanesco florets for several minutes in boiling water then shock on ice so they don’t get mushy. Add larger chunks to crudité, soups, or grain bowls, or chop and add to pasta, rice dishes, or omelets. (Try this recipe for squash and rice grits with romanesco.)
- Steam the florets and remove immediately from the heat so they maintain their crispiness. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and a touch of extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
- Add it to a tofu, chicken, or beef stir-fry with other vegetables like carrots, snow peas, and mushrooms.
- Roast them (like in the recipe below) or this recipe for roasted romanesco with caper-mint salsa and chili flakes.
Garlic-Roasted Lemon Romanesco Recipe
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
- 1 pound Romanesco, cut into bite-size florets
- 5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.
- In a large bowl, add romanesco and garlic. Drizzle olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss evenly to coat.
- Spread romanesco florets on prepared baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, turning florets halfway through until slightly browned. Remove from the oven and allow to slightly cool
- Drizzle with lemon juice and serve warm.
Easy ideas for romanesco
- Steam or boil florets for a few minutes until just tender and toss with olive oil or butter and lemon juice to taste, or stir fry for 4-5 minutes in a little oil. Add some toasted flaked almonds if you like.
- Cut romanesco into florets. Toss in olive oil, season and roast until just tender but still with some bite (15 minutes). Toss the roasted florets with stir fried or griddled leeks, a tin of cooked, rinsed and drained white beans and a dressing of oil, Dijon mustard and lemon juice, with some chopped herbs, e.g. parsley or tarragon.
- Use romanesco instead of cauliflower in a cheese sauce, or try a gratin: blanch florets for 3 minutes. Drain and toss with a tub of crème fraîche, 6 tablespoons of grated Cheddar and 1 teaspoon of mustard. Cover with breadcrumbs and a little more grated cheese. Bake until golden.
- Eat raw, either finely sliced or cut into small florets and use in salads. Or blanch for a couple of minutes and dunk in cold water to stop the colour fading, if you prefer a slightly less crunchy texture. Try mixing with red onion macerated in a little red wine vinegar and sugar.
Make sure your florets are roughly the same size, so they cook evenly. If you’re roasting them, don’t make them too large, as they’ll burn on the outside before they’re fully cooked.
One of the best parts about our test kitchen manager, Brad Leone’s, job is his weekly trip to the farmers’ market. It’s his responsibility to supply the kitchen with ripe produce, protein, and pantry staples year-round. In the summer and fall, when the farms are cranking out the good stuff, Brad is like a kid in a candy store. Every Wednesday, he hits the market with his reusable grocery bags to stock up on what’s fresh and good—and do a little snacking and snapping along the way, of course. Check back here at our From the Market column to see what Brad picked up and, of course, to get some cooking inspiration of your own.
Romanesco is one seriously cool vegetable. It’s intricate, mathematical pattern makes it a fractal (you are totally allowed to nerd out on that). It’s part of the brassica family (other members: cabbage, kale, and cauliflower), and has a flavor similar to broccoli. Romanesco’s funky, fun appearance has been known to incentivize even the pickiest of eaters to eat their veggies, but we find that everyone, from kids to adults, loves romanesco—and perhaps no one more than Brad Leone, BA’s test kitchen manager. Here are his tips on buying and cooking it.
Pick the Best of the Bunch
Brad’s no slouch when it comes to sniffing out the best-quality veggies. Here are his tips for finding a perfect head of romanesco:
•Pick heads that are bright in color (vibrant green, deep purple, etc.).
•The stem should show no signs of wilting; it should be firm and not floppy.
•Look for heads that still have perky leaves attached, as that’s a good sign of freshness. If the leaves have been removed, there’s a greater likelihood that the vegetable is older.
•Heads should feel dense and heavy for their size.
How to Store ‘Em
Keep unwashed romanesco in a plastic zip-top bag in the fridge; you can chop it into florets, but rinse just prior to using. It’ll start to lose quality after a week, but Brad recommends cooking it within 24 hours of purchasing it (you’ll probably be so excited to cook it that you won’t want to wait, anyway!).
Romanesco can take on big, bold flavors—like anchovies.Photo: Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriott
Michael Graydon + Nikole HerriottIdeas for Cooking It
Just like broccoli, romanesco can take you a long way from the crudité tray. Here are some ways Brad likes to prepare it:
•Blanch the florets and then shock in an ice bath to lock in that vibrant color. (They’ll become muted if you skip the shocking step.) Add the pre-cooked romanesco to salads, veggie trays, or even cold noodle dishes.
•It goes very well with pasta. Keep it simple with a hard, aged cheese and olive oil, or get fancy with something more saucy and complicated.
•Try it roasted or sautéed in olive oil with onions and garlic. Serve it on a sausage sandwich or a Italian sub. Don’t be afraid of getting a little char on the veggie; it can stand up to the flavor.
•Break it into florets and pickle them with garlic.
The most important thing to remember: Don’t overcook it. “You want to maintain the vegetable’s unique shape, not turn it to mush.”
Make This Now: Charred Romanesco with Anchovies and Mint
Romanesco Broccoli Care – How To Grow Romanesco Broccoli Plants
Brassica romanesco is a fun vegetable in the same family as cauliflower and cabbage. Its more common name is broccoli romanesco and it produces lime green heads packed with smaller florets similar to its cousin, the cauliflower. Planting romanesco broccoli is a great way of providing variety in your family’s diet.
The unique flavor and the crazy looking plant are kid favorites and they can be involved in growing romanesco broccoli. Learn how to grow romanesco and expose your friends and family to a unique brassica that can be used fresh or cooked.
What is Romanesco?
Your first glimpse of this strange vegetable will have you wondering, what is romanesco? The neon green color is unearthly and the entire head is spiked unevenly. What at first appears to be from Mars, is actually a member of the cole family, which includes cabbage, broccoli and other cool season vegetables.
Romanesco grows much like cauliflower, with thick stalks and wide, rough
leaves. The central head gets large, and the entire plant can span 2 feet in diameter. Leave a large space for growing romanesco broccoli, as it is not only wide but needs plenty of nutrients to grow the huge heads. The plant is hardy in USDA growing zones 3 to 10 and can grow well into fall in temperate areas.
How to Grow Romanesco
Broccoli romanesco needs well drained soil in full sun. Prepare the seed bed with the addition of organic material and till well. Sow seeds in May if direct seeding. Planting broccoli romanesco in cooler zones is best done from starts. You can sow them in seed flats six to eight weeks before planting out.
Young romanesco broccoli care must include regular watering and weeding around the seedling to prevent competitive weeds. Set plants at least 2 feet apart in rows spaced 3 feet from each other
Broccoli romanesco is a cool season plant that bolts when exposed to high heat. In temperate zones you can get a spring crop and an early fall crop. Planting broccoli romanesco seed in late July to early August will achieve a fall crop.
Romanesco Broccoli Care
The plants need the same care that broccoli or cauliflower require. They are tolerant of some dry conditions but best head formation occurs when they are consistently moist. Water from the base of the plant to prevent fungal problems on the leaves.
Side dress the plants with manure and fertilize them with a water soluble fertilizer, twice during the heading period. Cut the heads off when they are the size you desire and store in a cool dry place.
Broccoli romanesco is excellent, steamed, blanched, grilled or just in a salad. Try replacing it in many of your favorite vegetable dishes.
How to grow romanesco
Cauliflower or broccoli ‘Romanesco’ is the glamorous cousin of the humble cabbage family.
It’s Italian in origin, with distinctive lime green heads made up of numerous geometric florets. It’s a beautiful and unusual vegetable in its own right and is becoming increasingly popular. The flavour is similar to that of cauliflower, but is milder, nuttier and has a crunchier texture. It can be eaten hot or cold in salads.
More Grow Guides:
- How to grow sweet peas
- How to grow peas
- How to grow strawberries
Follow the advice in our practical Grow Guide for a delicious crop of romanesco.
Where to grow romanesco
Planting young romanesco plants
Like other brassicas, romanesco thrives in a fairly heavy, alkaline soil – if your soil is acidic, add lime. Choose a sheltered sunny spot in soil that has been prepared in advance by digging in well rotted farmyard manure. Tread the soil down to firm it in. Plant young romanesco plants deeply, and very firmly, to give each plant stability and protect against rocking on windy days. Water well after planting.
Video: Monty Don demonstrates how to plant romanesco
Growing romanesco from seed
Sowing romanesco seeds in a modular tray
Sow seeds in late spring either in a prepared seedbed in early summer, or in pots or seed trays in free-draining compost. When the seedlings are large enough to handle, thin them out to approximately 7cm apart. When they have grown to 10cm, transplant them to their spot in the vegetable patch, planting 45cm apart in rows 60cm apart.
More advice on sowing seeds
Caring for romanesco
Mulching romanesco with crushed oyster shells
Water plants regularly, particularly in dry weather. Feed with a high nitrogen fertiliser when plants are established and growing well. This will boost growth and help the formation of the intricate green heads.
Romanesco heads are ready to harvest in the Autumn, from September onwards. You can wait until you have larger flower heads, or harvest smaller flowerheads, as with sprouting broccoli, and get a second crop.
Storing and cooking romanesco
Romanesco is best eaten freshly harvested. However you can store for up to two weeks in a refrigerator or cool larder. Not sure how to cook romanesco? Try this tasty romanesco freekeh recipe from our friends at Olive Magazine. It can also be roasted, blanched or sautéed.
Splitting and potting on romanesco seedlings
Protect young seedlings and plants from slugs and snails and when you transplant them, make sure you net plants against pigeon damage. Club root can also be a problem, as for all members of the Brassica family.
Romanesco varieties to grow
- Brassica oleracea var. botrytis ‘Romanesco’ – the classic Italian romanesco, with typical pointed, patterned lime-green heads
Two similar vegetables are sometimes called broccoflower. One is a trade-marked hybrid between broccoli and cauliflower, richer in vitamin A than either of its parents and also well endowed with vitamin C. Its cauliflower-shaped yellow-green heads have a sweet cauliflower-like taste.
The other is also called Romanesco broccoli. Its lime-green heads with conical florets may weigh up to 4-5 pounds at maturity. Care for the two vegetables is similar, but Romanesco is slower to mature and can grow larger. You can harvest cauliflower-type broccoflower 70 days after transplanting, but Romanesco requires nearly 100 days. Romanesco is an Italian heirloom with a nutty flavor and is a popular vegetable in fine restaurants.
How to Grow and Care for Broccoflower
Broccoflower is a cool-season crop. Northern gardeners should transplant 4-6 week-old broccoflower seedlings outside 2 weeks before the spring free-frost date (your local Cooperative Extension can tell you when that is). Southern growers may set transplants out in August for a fall harvest or (in very warm areas) plant seeds in October for a winter harvest.
Broccoflower thrives in a very rich soil with lots of nitrogen. Add several inches of finished compost or well-rotted manure to your soil before planting. You can mix in a small amount of blood meal for an extra nitrogen boost.
Mulching your broccoflower with lawn clippings (from a lawn that’s not treated with herbicides) will help to keep the soil cool and weed-free as well as providing an extra nitrogen boost when the clippings break down. Biweekly feeding with compost tea or fish emulsion will help your broccoflower to thrive.
Space transplants 2-3′ apart in each direction.
Set seeds 1/2″ deep and 3″ apart in rows 2 or 3 feet apart.
Thin to 2-3′ apart.
Harvest when heads are 6-8″ across.
Cauliflower-like broccoflower needs less spacing than Romanesco. So, as a guideline, use 2 feet for broccoflower and closer to 3 feet for Romanesco since it is a larger plant.
Broccoflower and Romanesco Pests, Problems, and Diseases
Broccoflower and Romanesco suffer from the same environmental problems, pests and diseases as broccoli and cauliflower.
These are a few of them:
Very small heads may be caused by shock from cold weather (some growers recommend covering plants when night temperatures drop below 50, though I’m not sure how this fits with the recommendation to transplant outside before the frost-free date) or by insufficient nitrogen. In overly warm weather (days over 86 F and nights over 77 F) broccoflower may not form heads at all.
Hollow stems may be caused by boron deficiency. To prevent this, spray plants with kelp extract every 2 weeks, or plant broccoflower where you’ve had a cover crop of clover. Hollow stems may also be caused by excessive nitrogen and overly wide plant spacings. Experiment with different spacings to find out what’s optimal for your soil.
Purple leaves indicate a phosphorus deficiency. Spray your plants with fish emulsion and add bone meal to your soil.
If your broccoflower’s leaves curl, pucker and turn yellow, you may have an aphid or whitefly infestation. Look on the undersides of leaves for tiny soft-bodied green, brown or pink insects. Aphids can be handpicked or killed with organic insecticidal soap. Ladybugs eat aphids. Soap is the best remedy for whiteflies.
Ragged holes in leaves may be caused by cabbage loopers or cabbage worms, light green yellow-striped caterpillars. Handpick them or spray with Bacillus thuringiensis.
Pinholes in your leaves are probably the work of flea beetles. Skeletonized leaves may be caused by the Mexican bean beetle. Leaves chewed to the stem suggest the presence of vegetable weevils. Pyrethrum spray may control these pests. Pyrethrum is organic but toxic to bees–spray it in the evening when pollinators aren’t active.
If your plants have yellowish spots on their leaves that grow white downy mold in wet weather, they’ve been hit by downy mildew. If you catch it early, try spraying an organic fungicide like copper or Bacillus subtilis. If it’s well advanced, remove and destroy (do not compost) affected plants.
Weak, small-headed plants with black-spotted lower leaves have rhizoctonia. This can’t be cured. Remove and destroy (do not compost) affected plants. Don’t plant cole crops on this soil in the next 3 years.
Ways to Prepare Broccoflower
Treat it as you would cauliflower or broccoli. Eat it raw in salad or with dip, pickle it, slice it into steaks, add it to casseroles, roast it, sauté it with a bit of wine, steam it and serve it with cheese sauce… Also, you can cook the leaves of Romanesco broccoli as you would kale.
Here’s a great video on how to cut Romanesco broccoli:
Want to learn more about growing broccoflower and Romanesco?
See these helpful resources:
Broccoflower from University of Arizona
Growing Romanesco broccoli from University of Wisconsin Extension