What Is Romanesco? How Do You Cook It?

Learn all about this stunning cruciferous vegetable and what makes it so special.

As the seasons begin to transition, you've likely noticed the offerings at the farmers' market are changing, too. One unique vegetable that starts to crop up in produce aisles in the cooler months is Romanesco. You may have even wondered, what the heck is it? And you're not alone.

What Is Romanesco?

fresh romanesco whole and cut in half

Romanesco goes by various names, including Romanesco broccoli, fractal broccoli, or Roman cauliflower, though it's considered to be a hybrid between cauliflower and broccoli. And it's part of the Brassica genus (also known as cruciferous vegetables), just like Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kale.

Romanesco is chartreuse in color with spire-like florets. Each one looks identical, albeit getting smaller and smaller. Romanesco naturally forms a logarithmic spiral and is an approximate (because it eventually ends) fractal, which is a geometric curve with a repetitive pattern, as the shape gets smaller in scale. Each part or floret (in this case) has the same form as the whole. If you're curious just how many spirals are on one head of Romanesco, it is a Fibonacci number. So now you have a great conversation starter at dinner or even at a party.

So kids (or some adults, let's be honest) who aren't a fan of trying new foods or green vegetables might be swayed by the math lesson alone, or at the very least its intriguing form. On top of this, if you cut it right down the middle, it looks like a Christmas tree.

How to Choose Romanesco

You want to select a head that is bright in color without any discoloration or brown spots. The stem should be sturdy and firm. The head should be dense and heavy for its size, and if the leaves are still attached to the stem and aren't wilted, that's another indicator of freshness.

Roasted Romanesco

Get the Recipe: Roasted Romanesco

How to Use Romanesco

You can prepare Romanesco just as you would cauliflower or even broccoli and can enjoy it raw or cooked. But the flavor is uniquely its own. When cooked, it has an earthy, nutty flavor. Eat it roasted, steamed, sautéed with garlic and olive oil, in a stir-fry, tossed with pasta, in a quiche, or a soup. Just make sure you don't overcook it because aside from an unpleasant mushy texture, it will also lose a lot of its flavor.

Can Romanesco Be Substituted for Broccoli or Cauliflower?

Certainly. Romanesco can be used as a substitute or as an additive in many dishes calling for cauliflower or broccoli, though it has its own distinct flavor. So if you're curious to taste this vegetable but a little apprehensive, try it with one of your favorite cruciferous veggie recipes or combine Romanesco with broccoli or cauliflower — or try all three. You'll be happily surprised.

How to Store Romanesco

Romanesco is best eaten within a couple of days after purchase but will last up to a week in the fridge. To prolong freshness, wrap a dampened paper towel around the head and place it in a sealed plastic bag. Then poke several holes so air can circulate and keep in the vegetable drawer until you are ready to use. Don't bother washing or cutting up Romanesco beforehand, wait until you're going to prepare it.

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