Romanesco is like the Lady Gaga of broccoli.
Unapologetic, captivating, a bit peculiar. Certainly there isn’t a more stylish vegetable.
With its kaleidoscopic spires and minarets, it looks like it could be some kind of architectural coral from the ocean floor…or Mars. The fractal nature of broccoli romanesco’s structure is quite stunning, and what’s even more remarkable, the number of spirals on a head of romanesco is a Fibonacci number.
Sometimes called “Roman cauliflower” the lineage of the vegetable indeed goes back to cauliflower, and it has the same texture of cauliflower, but the flavor is closer to that of broccoli, except more subdued.
As I pondered how to cook this beautiful head of romanesco, my mind landed on another classic Roman dish, Cacio e Pepe, traditionally a simple and satisfying spaghetti dish adorned with just Pecorino Romano cheese, black pepper, and some olive oil.
I traded in the spaghetti strands for bite-sized orecchiette to match the shape of the romanesco florets I’d be tossing into the pasta. The chew of the al dente orecchiette was wonderful and the little indentations in them held just the right amount of sauce inside. Pecorino Romano is the classic cheese used, but I’m a Parmigiano Reggiano lover so I used half and half in this. The combination is great – you get that sheep’s milk tang from one and that sweet, round nuttiness from the other. Although it will be a bit more expensive, I recommend using the real imported stuff. In a dish like this where there are just a handful of ingredients, the flavors of each really shine and I think you’ll be able to taste the difference.
As for the romanesco, simple is the name of the game here, so I just did a quick blanch to cook them through, and finished them in a sauté of olive oil fragrant with slivers of garlic.
A few bites in, I realized why this combination of flavors tasted so familiar. When you were little, did you ever have Mac ‘n’ Cheese with little bits of broccoli mixed in? Well, yeah, this is like the grown and sexy, Roman version. Buon appetito to that!
Romanesco Cacio e Pepe
A properly Roman dish, this dish combines the classic “Cacio e Pepe” (cheese and pepper) with beautiful florets of broccoli romanesco sautéed in garlic and olive oil. Since the ingredients are few, using real imported Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano will make a noticeable difference here. Bon appetito!
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1 head of broccoli romanesco
1 clove garlic
4 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, 2 ounces finely grated and 2 ounces coarsely grated (about 1 cup of each)
2 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, finely grated (about 1 cup)
1 pound orecchiette pasta
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons finely ground black pepper
Kosher salt to taste
- Prep the broccoli romanesco by removing the exterior leaves and core, and separating it into bite-sized florets. Wash the florets and then blanch them in a large pot of boiling, salted water until they just turn tender (about 3 minutes). Shock them in an ice bath or very cold water to stop the cooking. Set aside.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, and add the pasta. Cook until al dente, giving it a stir every once in awhile to keep the pasta from sticking together.
- Place the finely grated Pecorino and Parmigiano in a medium bowl, this will be made into a sauce. The coarsely grated Pecorino will be used for garnishing at the end and can be placed in a small serving bowl.
- Slice the garlic as thin as you can and sauté in 1 tablespoon of olive oil until lightly toasted. The garlic slices will brown quickly so be careful not to let them burn. Add the romanesco florets and a pinch of salt, and sauté briefly, coating them in the olive oil. Set aside until the pasta is done cooking.
- Drain the pasta, reserving 1 1/2 cups of the cooking water. Return the pasta to the empty pot.
- Slowly whisk 1 cup reserved pasta cooking water into the finely grated Pecorino and Parmigiano until smooth. Whisk in cream, 2 teaspoons olive oil, and black pepper. Gradually pour cheese mixture over pasta, tossing to coat.
- Let pasta rest 1 to 2 minutes, tossing frequently. The sauce will thicken a bit as it sets. If it is too thick, add more of the reserved pasta water. Toss in the romanesco. Salt to taste. Top with coarsely grated Pecorino and enjoy immediately!