One of the best things about talking to other people who love food is that they point you to weirdly beautiful ingredients, like this:
No, that's not an escapee from Middle Earth you're seeing. It's one of Mother Nature's best attempts at making fractals come alive into a golden spiral: the Romanesco (sometimes called fractal broccoli, broccoflower, or Romanesque cauliflower). Here's another view:
Despite its spectacular looks, the Romanesco isn't a special species of vegetable. It's also not a broccoli-cauliflower hybrid, either. It's actually straight-up cauliflower. It's part of the brassica oleracea family, just like regular broccoli, cauliflower, and kale.
When it comes to taste, it's similar to white cauliflower, although many cooks say it can taste a little grassier and more vegetal, with a trace of sweetness. Some say it can taste nuttier and richer than regular cauliflower, and feels crunchier.
You can cook Romanesco just the way you'd cook your favorite brassica. Cut/break it along its natural florets, then lightly steam and then toss it with butter, salt, and cheese— that way you preserve its beauty. Or you can cut them into large steaks.
If taste is more your thing, you might want to try tossing it with olive oil, salt, and pepper and then roasting it on high heat. This method tends to work great with brassicas in general, by caramelizing their natural sugars. It's also a natural accompaniment to pastas.
Winter tends to be the best time to buy Romanescos, as cooler temperatures let brassicas become their tastiest. If your regular grocery store doesn't have them, try your local farmer's market or natural foods store.
Are you a good cook who wants to get better? Then it's time you learned about all of the wonderfully strange ingredients out there, like fish sauce (a mainstay of Thai and Vietnamese cooking), blood (a terrific way to add richness and depth to a meal), Marmite (aka the "umami bomb"), and black garlic (long-fermented garlic).
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