November 30, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Redhead Romanesco

By |2018-03-21T18:42:01+01:00October 29th, 2010|Food & Wine Archive|
Extraterrestrial-looking spikes that can look like geometry class fractals

ome gentlemen prefer blondes. Others pick brunettes. But there’s always room for a fiery redhead. Broccolo Romanesco is that redhead. It comes around briefly in fall and represents an intriguing alternative to the broccoli-cauliflower norm.

Broccolo Romanesco, which is closely related to cauliflower, belongs to the Brassica family and is part of the mustard genus. It also includes Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale and various kinds of cabbage. It grows best in temperate zones and first appeared in Italy in the 1500s.

While Thomas Jefferson planted it at his Monticello estate in the 1780s using Italian seeds, the United States really didn’t get around to eating the plant until the 20th century. Despite an unusual appearance — extraterrestrial-looking spikes in fractals straight out of a geometry class – its nutty flavor can provide a nice addition to fall’s cornucopia.

But it can be finicky to make.

Cook it too long and the plant becomes mushy, losing most of its flavor (like broccoli). To avoid pitfalls, think short: sauté quickly, steam lightly, boil briefly, or roast for a few minutes at most.

If you take the sauté route, it’s delicious with olive oil, garlic and salt. If you like things hot, add chili pepper flakes or spiced olive oil to the mix.

But steaming best preserves the original flavor. Put an inch of water in a pot large enough to hold the entire plant, bring it to a roiling boil, add the Romanesco, and cover for about 10 minutes. Remove it from the pot and let it cool for a few minutes before slicing it up and eating it plain or with a few drops of olive oil.

Boiling is best for a pasta dish (see the recipe below). Chopped into small pieces it only takes about five minutes to cook through. For best results, cook the pasta in the same water used for the Romanesco.

As for roasting, heat the oven to 230C (450F) and chop the head up into about 1/2-inch pieces. Toss the pieces with olive oil and diced garlic and spread them evenly in a shallow oven pan. Fifteen minutes later (turn them over half way through) and you’ve got a nice side dish. Sprinkle them with grated Parmesan and you’ve got a great one.


  • 1 box short pasta.

  • 1 head of Broccolo Romanesco.

  • 3 acchuige (salted anchovies).

  • 2 garlic cloves.

  • Zest of a lemon.

  • Juice from 1/2 lemon.

  • Parsley (finely chopped)

  • Olive oil.


  • Chop Romanesco into pieces about the same size as the pasta, leaving the florets intact. Boil for 5-6 minutes in large pot of well-salted water.

  • At the same time, soften garlic in a large pan. Just before it starts to brown (2-3 minutes) add boiled Romanesco pieces along with anchovies, lemon zest and lemon juice. Simmer on low heat, mixing frequently, while you cook the pasta.

  • Add pasta to water you cooked the Romanesco in. Cook until al dente.

  • Add pasta to pan with broccoli and other ingredients. Cook together for 2-3 minutes. Serve immediately with a sprinkle of parsley on top.

About the Author:

Sam was born and raised in New York, N.Y., and made his first trip to Rome during his freshman year of high school, and from there his interest for the city only grew. After studying Classics and Art History at Davidson College, he seized the opportunity to return to Rome for a summer internship in 2008. Not finding two months sufficient time to delve into the city's history and culture, Sam remained in Rome. He now leads private tours, is developing the website YounginRome, and works as an apprentice in a well known restaurant.