native to: first bred in Italy
in season here: late June-August
Romanesco has a number of names, mostly because no one can decide exactly what it’s the “romanesque” version of. Here in the Northwest it is most often considered a kind of cauliflower, although some consider it broccoli. The French name translates as “romanesque cabbage” and it is a relative of both cabbage and Brussels sprouts as well as broccoli and cauliflower. Other names are minaret broccoli, coral broccoli, and turret cauliflower. Before reading the sign on its basket, most of us call it some version of “that weird neon-green fractal veggie” and I understand children often call it “Christmas trees.” What it all comes down to, though, is that this stuff’s got eye appeal.
When it comes to nutrition, romanesco is similar to cauliflower, being rich in vitamins C and K, but it has more carotene and mineral salts while being not quite as good a source of fiber. It is considered to be one of the most easily digested vegetables and is a good source of zinc. This last little detail means it’s useful for people who are losing their sense of taste (for food, I mean; it doesn’t seem to help those developing a sudden interest in umbrella hats, platform sneakers, and granny-square vests) or are troubled with a metallic aftertaste.
You can use romanesco in just about any recipe for cauliflower, although its slightly nutty flavor will change the taste of the dish a little.