Romanesco: The king of weird.
As I was riding home the other day, I dropped into a little liquor store on the corner of Zuni and 32nd street. Placing my six-pack on the counter, I started chatting with the guys at the register. Turns out they’re both from Mongolia. From there the conversation led to, of course, you guessed it — horses and hills and yurts and the Chinese government and development and why Colorado? It reminds us of home, they said in unison. We have peaks like yours and the climate is the same — like today — rain, snow, sunshine — crazy. Is it spring, is it winter? Maybe he meant to say mountains, but when he said peaks I thought of something knobbled, like crazy knobbled peaks.
On my way home as I peddled and puzzled over dinner, thinking, what does one eat on a day like this? Asparagus — which is slowly beginning to show up from local sources— or does one stick with winter comestibles? A schizophrenic day, I reasoned, requires a schizophrenic vegetable, which brought my thoughts to Romanesco— those knobbled peaks of vegetal psychedelia. Could be from outer Mongolia for all I know.
Is it a perverted broccoli or a cauliflower mutant? An alien from an outer field? Whatever it is, it has become a resident in our kitchen and it makes for a stunning roast on vegan night which seems to be most nights around here of late. The thing looks so vibrant, so alive, one could almost feel the guilt of the reluctant meat-eater when faced with butchering it. All cauliflower is butchered the same way prior to roasting: You peel away the excessive leaves, lay it on its top and quickly cut out its rectal core or whatever it’s called on the bottom — its stub?
You thank it for giving up its life.
Back in the day cauliflower came in any color you liked as long as it was white. We ate it often and always the same way, in a cheese sauce. My mother called it cauliflower cheese. It was really a Mornay sauce, topped with bread crumbs and baked and finished under the broiler to a golden bubbly like an Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake .
It’s come a long way from its cheesy gooey past having morphed, kind of like Denver into a cosmopolitan—but vegetal metropolis. Now it comes in a bunch of diverse colors. Along with the common white, we see it in purple, yellow and orange.
Then there’s the king of weird: Romanesco, also known as, Roman cauliflower, or Romanesco broccoli, it’s originally from Italy, it’s totally nuts — I love it.
It’s unbelievably simple to roast a cauliflower: douse it with good olive oil and rub sea salt all over, maybe layer a few sliced potatoes and onions underneath like this white one here.
Put it in the oven at 350˚, basting every 1/2 hour, for 2 hours or more depending on its size.
Or you can dress it up a little more. For the Romanescos pictured above — and I used 2, as it was a dinner formulated for romance—I used my trusty Moroccan tagine. I dressed them in olive oil, sea salt, toasted and ground cumin seeds and an ample amount of Aleppo pepper. I had some cooked chick peas in the fridge, so in they went. I added some baby potatoes, carrots, onions and trumpet mushrooms. Then I made a simple sauce of coconut milk and Thai green curry paste. (You can buy the curry paste ready-made to save time) Just heat in a pan and mix it up.
Pour the lot over the Romanesco and vegetables. It’s a tagine right? That means you cover it with the lid, which creates the steamy, sultry interior, and after an hour I deluded it for another hour
to get a nice crispy finish on the knobby peaks. Don’t forget to baste it once you take the lid off. For a final booster I chopped and added a few leaflets of kale and let them steam under the lid a minute while waiting for my wife to join me at the table.
Not bad, eh?