Italian romanesco cauliflower combines with Spanish romesco sauce in this simple roasted romanesco recipe that lets the flavour of simple, fresh Mediterranean ingredients shine through.
What is romanesco?
Is there any vegetable cooler than romanesco? Despite its psychedelic appearance, romanesco is not a GMO, so keep your pants on.
It’s thought that romanesco comes from Italy, having been developed through selective breeding sometime in the 16th century.
It’s in the brassica family, making it a cousin of cauliflower and broccoli, which is why you’ll often find it referred to as either romanesco cauliflower or romanesco broccoli.
However, it is neither cauliflower nor broccoli. It’s its own weird thing and its spiral shape makes it an approximate fractal (for all you math nerds out there).
When is romanesco in season?
Romanesco is a cool weather vegetable. It is in season beginning in the fall and can be grown through the winter and into early spring if you are in a temperate zone.
Romanesco tends to be snapped up quickly so if you see them at your local supermarket or farmer’s market, be sure to grab one while you can!
What does romanesco taste like?
It’s often described as nutty in flavour. I find that a bit odd, I personally don’t think of nuttiness when I eat romanesco.
It’s more like a milder and slightly sweeter version of cauliflower with a hint of broccoli thrown in. Even though it resembles a cauliflower, it’s texture is firmer and more creamy when cooked.
Of course its enchantment comes from it’s shape so you wouldn’t want to do things to it that you would do to a cauliflower like make a puree or a soup.
Simple preparations are best and these include sauteeing, blanching, steaming and roasting. You can even just eat romanesco raw.
How to cut romanesco
You prepare romanesco for cooking the same way that you prepare a cauliflower or broccoli by removing the florets from the core and cutting them into bite-sized pieces.
Some people do this by slicing the head in half through the middle and then each half into quarters. From there you can slice the florets from the core.
That’s one way to do it but I don’t like to sacrifice the top spiral by cutting it into quarters. I simply go around the core, pulling the smaller florets off with my hands and using a knife to slice off the larger ones, thereby maintaining the complete spirals.
If any spirals are especially big, I may end up slicing them in half in order to keep them bite-sized. It depends on how I will be cooking and serving the romanesco.
How to roast romanesco
My favourite way to cook romanesco is by roasting. Roasting concentrates its unique flavours and maintains it’s super fun shape. It’s also really easy.
Simply turn on your oven, toss the florets with a touch of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper and roast them until tender all the way through with a bit of browning on the edges.
The length of time it takes to roast romanesco depends on how high you set your oven and how large the florets are. At 400 F / 200 C it will take about 20 minutes.
For this particular recipe, I wanted to prepare romesco sauce to serve alongside my roasted romanesco so I used a slightly lower temperature of 350 F / 175 C in order to properly prepare the tomatoes and garlic for the sauce. At this temperature, the romanesco needed about 35 – 40 minutes to roast.
What’s romesco sauce?
Romesco sauce is not made from romanesco, lol. While romanesco originated in Italy, romesco sauce is from Spain.
In Spain, romesco sauce is often served with roasted vegetables and roasted romanesco goes well with romesco sauce! Confused yet?
What’s REALLY important for you to know about authentic romesco sauce is that it is NOT made from red peppers.
Romesco sauce is made from roasted tomatoes, garlic, stale bread, hazelnuts, almonds, olive oil, sherry vinegar and ñora (a type of small dried pepper).
I wrote an entire post about how to make authentic Spanish romesco sauce and why every other recipe on the copy-paste internet makes it incorrectly. It’s worth a read if you’re interested in doing things the right way!
For the roasted romanesco
- 1 head of romanesco, cut into bite-sized florets
- 1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil
- A pinch of salt and pepper
For the romesco sauce
- 3 medium tomatoes
- 1 head of garlic, (optional: an additional raw clove)
- 2 ñora peppers, (can sub cascabel or ancho peppers or, as a last resort, 1/4 of a red bell pepper. See my recipe for authentic romesco sauce for more info)
- 1 slice of stale crusty bread, (about 25 grams / 0.89 oz)
- 35 grams (1.25 oz) raw peeled hazelnuts
- 35 grams (1.25 oz) raw peeled almonds
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup olive oil, or more to taste, plus a drizzle for the tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
Turn the oven on to 350 F / 175 C.
Cut a cross in the bottom of each tomato and place them cut side up in an oven-safe dish. Place the dish and the whole head of garlic on a baking pan (if you are using a slice of red bell pepper in place of the ñora, roast it here as well). Drizzle everything with a tablespoon or two of olive oil.
Place the pan in the oven. Meanwhile, place the romanesco florets in a bowl and toss with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Rehydrate the ñora peppers by placing them in a bowl of hot water. (You can also place them in a bowl of water the night before). Set aside to soften while the tomatoes roast.
Toast the bread and the nuts. You can do this either by placing them in an oven-safe pan in the oven with the tomatoes for five minutes or so, or in a pan over medium heat on the stove.
After the tomatoes and garlic have been roasting for 30 minutes, add the romanesco florets to the pan to begin roasting.
After 15 more minutes, remove the garlic from the oven (it will have been roasting for 45 minutes in total). After a further 15 minutes, remove the tomatoes (they will have been roasting for 60 minutes).
Prepare the ñora by cutting them open and discarding the stem and seeds. Use a spoon to scrape the pulp away from the skin and discard the skin. I ended up with about 1 tablespoon of pulp from 2 ñora peppers.
Put the vinegar in a bowl and wet the toasted bread in the vinegar.
Peel the skin off the tomatoes, be careful and use two forks if they are still hot. Also pop all the roasted garlic cloves out of their skins (peel the red bell pepper if you're using it). Transfer the peeled tomatoes and garlic to a blender or food processor and add the salt.
Begin blending and slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Once it’s emulsified add the toasted bread and vinegar, ñora pulp and the raw clove of garlic if you are using it (it's optional)
Finally add the nuts and blend a bit more. Romesco sauce should be a bit grainy so do not over blend, a bit of bite is good. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Romesco sauce should be a bit tangy. If would like a thicker sauce, add more bread. For a thinner sauce, add more olive oil.
Remove the roasted romanesco from the oven. It should have been roasting for about 40 minutes. It is ready when it is crisp-tender and beginning to brown on the edges.
Serve the roasted romanesco with your authentic romesco sauce!