If You Love Cauliflower, It Might Be Time to Try Romanesco

This pointy plant may have caught your eye at the farmers' market, and it can hook your taste buds too.

Photo: Getty Images

Greenish yellow, with geometric shapes jutting out of a leafy stem, romanesco is an unusual-looking vegetable, but it's not altogether unfamiliar. Here we'll tell you what it is, what it tastes like and how to cook with it.

What Is Romanesco?

Romanesco is an edible flower that's light green with patterned points that look like a fractal (or an approximation of a fractal). It was exclusively grown in Rome starting around the 16th century, which is how it got its name and earned its heirloom vegetable status. It's now grown around the world.

It's similar to cauliflower and broccoli. In fact, it's sometimes called romanesco broccoli (Roman broccoli) or romanesco cauliflower (Roman cauliflower or Romanesque cauliflower). That's to be expected, as they're all cultivars of the species Brassica oleracea and have some similar characteristics.

Romanesco vs. Broccoli and Cauliflower

If you thought that this brassica was some sort of hybrid of broccoli mixed with cauliflower, you're not alone. (There is such a thing, broccoflower, but it's its own veggie.)

Though this brassica is not a cross between broccoli and cauliflower, it does have attributes of both. Raw, the florets are similar in texture to cauliflower, but romanesco has smaller buds and is slightly sweet, similar to broccoli. It cooks a bit faster than cauliflower: it holds up to heat well and maintains its texture.

At the Market

Most farmers' markets will have at least a few heads of this pointy plant, but it's becoming more common at larger grocery stores. If your neighborhood grocery store doesn't carry it, specialty markets typically do—it's available year-round.

Whole Roasted Romanesco with Labneh & Curry Oil

In the Kitchen

As a side dish, it's is great roasted with a little bit of olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. If you're looking for a statement dish, a whole-roasted head of romanesco is visually stunning in addition to being delicious. If you want something more involved, you can swap it for cauliflower in most recipes, but it's also good sauteed, in a casserole, grilled or in crudités.

One quick aside: don't confuse the vegetable with romesco which is a tomato-red pepper sauce made with nuts (which by the way, is also totally worth trying).

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