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Look and flavor of romanesco are out of this world

It looks far more like sculpture than vegetable, or maybe the misbegotten result of some sort of Space Age science experiment — food from the future, circa 1975.

Its fractal appearance notwithstanding, romanesco isn’t a recent hybrid, having been cultivated in Italy since the 1500s. But until recently, it has remained virtually unknown to most Americans.

Francesco di Caudo, executive chef at Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar on Paradise Road, actually took romanesco off the menu, although he’s considering putting it back on this winter.

“I’m not sure,” di Caudo said. “It’s a really tough vegetable for Americans. Most of the people, they don’t know what it is.”

There’s much confusion surrounding romanesco; do a little surfing on the internet and you’ll see plenty of references to “romanesco broccoli” “broccoli romanesco” and “romanesco cauliflower.” Of those, the last is the closest to being accurate, because DNA tests have discovered that romanesco is related to the cauliflower.

Di Caudo, a native of Italy (where it’s known as cavolo broccolo romanesco), said he likes the delicacy of the flavor and also the versatility of the vegetable.

“I can make a puree for a fish, I can make a pickle, I can make it just fried with some capers and raisins, or roasted like cauliflower,” he said. “I like the leaves; they are so full of flavor.”

Kerry Clasby, the Intuitive Forager who operates the Downtown Third Farmers Market at 300 N. Casino Center Blvd. on Fridays and Downtown Summerlin Farmers Market on Saturdays, said romanesco is becoming a little more familiar here.

“I think it’s a cutting-edge kind of vegetable that’s going to start coming into its own,” she said.

Clasby said she goes to 35 farmers’ markets a week to source products for local chefs, and she’s been seeing romanesco more and more, as well as baby romanesco.

“The thing is,” she said, “you don’t need the baby, because every romanesco is comprised of tons of little tiny romanesco heads. Every bite is a mini-romanesco.”

Last week, she took three heads of it to a dinner with chefs Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Roy Ellamar at Ellamar’s Harvest restaurant at Bellagio.

“He made it with fish sauce and lime,” she said of Ellamar. “It was like roasted, very tender but still crunchy.”

But she said romanesco by its very nature lends itself to the simplest of preparations.

“First, it’s so interesting, it looks so beautiful on the plate — like an alien Mars structure,” she said. “They have the cruciferous healthiness of a brassica, and nuttier flavor than a cauliflower, and they’re just delicious roasted. All you have to do is add olive oil and roast it at 350 (degrees) for about 20 minutes.”

At Nove Italiano at the Palms, executive chef Marlon Simbulan serves it with salmon. He cuts the romanesco into florets and sautes it with a little garlic, some extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice and white wine.

“I like its unique appearance,” he said. “It’s a beautiful pale lime green color. And the flavor I like because it’s a little nutty.”

Both the uniqueness and the flavor were a draw for John Courtney, culinary director for the Simon Hospitality Group.

“I really love cauliflower and I love broccoli,” Courtney said. “It’s like a nice marriage between the two.”

At Standard & Pour in Henderson, Courtney serves whole smoked romanesco with capers, red onions, golden raisins and herbs.

Courtney said the dish stemmed from some experimenting he and his fiance were doing in their new backyard, which has a smoker and a wood-fired oven. They were dieting and avoiding fat, and looking for new ways of doing things. He found himself wondering: “How can I turn a piece of cauliflower into something more enjoyable?”

Smoking with applewood was the answer, and the cauliflower morphed into romanesco.

“It kind of stretches the envelope a little for a chef,” he said.

And for the customers, too.

“They’re just, ‘Wow,’ ” Simbulan said. “They’ve never seen anything like it. It’s been a nice way to expand my guests’ palates.”


12 ounces campanelle or penne pasta

7 tablespoons olive oil (divided use)

2 heads roughly chopped romanesco (about 1¼ pounds total)

¾ teaspoon kosher salt (divided use)

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

½ teaspoon red chili flakes

Zest of 1 lemon

½ cup toasted sliced almonds

¼ cup shredded asiago cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium heat in a large frying pan. Add romanesco and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender-crisp, about 5 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon more oil to pan along with garlic and chili flakes. Cook until garlic is fragrant and light golden and romanesco is tender, about 5 minutes more.

Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup pasta water, and return to pot. Stir in romanesco mixture, lemon zest, almonds, cheese, remaining 3 tablespoons oil and ¼ teaspoon salt, and enough pasta water to moisten (about ¾ cup).

Serves 6.

— Recipe from Sunset


1 large or 2 medium heads (about 2 pounds) romanesco

1 cup brine-­cured green olives, pitted

3 tablespoons salt­-packed capers, rinsed and drained

¼ cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley

Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons

1/3 cup plus ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes

Kosher or sea salt

10 garlic cloves

Fill a large bowl with ice and cold water. Cut the romanesco into small florets, submerge them in the ice water and set aside to soak for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the olives, capers, parsley and lemon zest on a chopping board and chop together until minced.

In a small pot, heat the 1/3 cup oil and the red pepper flakes over medium-­low heat until hot. Remove from the heat

and stir in the olive mixture, 1 teaspoon salt and the lemon juice. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons salt. Drain the romanesco from its ice bath, drop it

into the boiling water and add the garlic cloves. Cook until the florets are just tender, 5 minutes. Drain well; remove the garlic cloves and add them to the olive-­caper dressing.

Place the dressing in a large bowl, add the romanesco and toss well. Taste, and add more salt, red pepper flakes,

and/or lemon juice as needed. Serve hot or at room temperature, drizzled with the remaining olive oil. (If serving

at room temperature, adjust the seasoning again before drizzling with oil.)

Serves 8 to 10 as a side dish.

— Recipe from Mario Batali


1 head romanesco, broken into large florets

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss romanesco with oil, salt and pepper on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, turning halfway through, until golden and tender, about 20 minutes.

Serves 4.

— Recipe from Sunset

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com. Find more of her stories at www.reviewjournal.com, and follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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