In my past life as a painter, I loved the process of making art nearly as much as the completed work. These days, I express my creativity differently, but I’m still entranced by all the little steps that transform an ingredient into a finished dish. Our culture and busy lives push us toward faster, easier things – but, especially at the height of February, when the weather and produce are equally bleak, I find it grounding to get into the kitchen and cook with attention to the prep and stirring and all the other in-betweens. As it happens, a carefully roasted Romanesco, topped with nutty brown butter toasted panko and a bit of parsley offers both a wonderful opportunity to focus on process and a delicious finished dish that’s just right for a snowy February afternoon.
I’d been admiring the Romanesco at my local market for a while. I spent enough time eyeing it that fellow shoppers started asking me questions – it seemed everyone who passed was just as bemused and intrigued as I was. Outwardly showy and decidedly psychedelic, Romanesco is very similar in flavor and texture to cauliflower, though maybe a touch sweeter. Experts may tell you the proper name is Romanesco Broccoli and that it tastes like its namesake, but don’t believe them – it’s also known as Romanesco Cauliflower – a superior comparison, for sure.
To show off Romanesco’s beauty and wonderful texture, I roasted it. Even though I had a small head, I gave the florets generous space and smushed two baking sheets onto the top rack of my oven. While they roasted, I melted butter in a small skillet, coaxing it to a deep brown hue. Next, I tossed in minced garlic and panko, along with sea salt, pepper, and a minced parsley and let the breadcrumbs edge golden. As soon as the Romanesco was tender with rich brown edges, I scattered the florets on a platter, topped it all with the warm toasted breadcrumbs, and served it up right away.
- 1 head Romanesco (cauliflower with work well, too), cored and cut into 3/4-inch florets
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt
- freshly ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
- 1/4 cup finely minced parsley
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Move a rack to the top third of oven.
- Toss Romanesco florets with olive oil, and a generous pinch each sea salt and pepper. Scatter on 1 - 2 baking sheets, making sure each floret has an inch or two of space. Slide into oven and roast 15 minutes. Remove from oven, carefully flip each floret, and roast an additional 10 - 15 minutes, or until edges are a deep golden brown and florets are fork tender.
- Meanwhile, heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add butter and swirl to melt. Cook butter gently – edge heat to medium-low if needed – swirling or stirring, until butter goes from golden to light brown and takes on a nutty fragrance, 5 - 7 minutes. Toss in panko and garlic, and a pinch each sea salt and pepper. Toast panko, stirring often, 2 - 3 minutes or until golden. Remove from heat and fold in parsley.
- Arrange roasted Romanesco on a platter, top with warm breadcrumbs, and serve immediately.