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The vegetable Romanesco is new to me, and perhaps to you—here is all about it
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale

email: art@artdrysdale.com

Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at http://www.artdrysdale.com


July 10, 2016

This is the beautiful vegetable Romanesco fully mature and ready for eating however you wish. Photo courtesy Ross Garden Clinic Journal.

 



 


 



 

Seldom, it seems, do I write about vegetables in these items. And something else I generally stay away from is writing about specific plants that I have not grown (or tried to grow!) myself. So, this article will be a break-through in both those regards.

About three years ago I was reading my friends the Ross family’s Australian gardening magazine, Garden Clinic Journal, actually some old back issues that I had not checked out previously. The specific one that prompted this item was Winter 2009 (it is a very well-produced quarterly). It contained a good, detailed article about how vegetables are grown by writer, teacher and vegetable grower, Sarah Raven, at her Perch Hill Farm in East Sussex, England. Included was a photo of some regular cauliflower ready to pick, as well as some Romanesco broccoli (or as some prefer Romanesco cauliflower. I have included the part of the photo that showed the Romanesco variety in all its full glory.

This was a vegetable about which I knew very little. It is an old Italian vegetable variety that's been rediscovered and promoted by famous chefs not only in North America, but also in the U.K. among others. Consequently, to some extent, it's now getting easier to find in supermarkets, farm shops and good green-grocers.

I noted that Nikki Duffy, in England’s The Guardian said the following about this vegetable a way back in September, 2005:

“In the kitchen, it's a joy. You can often buy small heads of Romanesco which are ideal for serving whole. Alternatively, cut into chunky florets (to preserve that marvellous pattern), blanch, then dunk immediately in icy water to fix the divine colour and serve cold in a salad--it's good with shreds of raw red onion (soaked in salty water to soften their pungency), olives and capers and a dressing of peppery olive oil and lemon.

“Romanesco is also a wonderful partner to pasta. Being more tender than standard cauliflower, it easily cooks down with stock or tomatoes to a crushable softness. Mingled with garlic and lots of chilli, and tossed into orecchiette or conchiglie [shell pastas] with olive oil and Parmesan, it's one of my all-time favourite quick suppers. Try it also in a gratin--an updated cauliflower cheese, if you like--dotting the blanched florets with crème fraîche mixed with Parmesan, then sprinkling more Parmesan and some breadcrumbs on top and baking till golden. Irresistible.

“Romanesco cauliflower is often called romanesco broccoli or calabrese romanesco--especially in Italian recipes. Don't worry, they're the same thing. Another name, minaret, is also used. Its high season is really October-November.”

My first search on the Web was to check availability. As for seeds, Stokes do not have it; Thompson & Morgan do not list it; Territorial Seeds here in Vancouver do not seem to have it; OSC Seeds do not have it; T & T Seeds do not seem to have it ; ah but, Dominion Seed House ( www.dominioon-seed-house.com ), Florabunda Seeds ( www.florabundaseeds.com ), McFayden Seed Co. Ltd. ( www.mckenzieseeds.com ), and Vesey’s Seeds Ltd. ( www.veseys.com ) all list Romanesco seeds varying in price from about $3 a package and up.

What about how to grow them, you say. Well, if you have ever grown cauliflower plants, they are basically the same. Both like a cool growing season. For an early crop, start the seeds now, at least by the middle of this month (or as early as February 1st if you have a long frost-free season). A greenhouse is the ideal starting place but indoors under fluorescent or other grow lights should work if you keep the air temperature relatively cool (10 – 14o C). Keeping the starting medium much warmer (21o C/70o F) is also suggested—a warming mat is one way to do that.

Once your seedlings have at least one set of true leaves (not the cotyledon leaves which first appear), you will need to harden off your seedlings by putting them outside (out of the sun and wind) for brief periods (ten minutes the first day), gradually increasing the time out until they can remain outside, except for forecast cold (frosty) nights. Transplant them into the garden where they receive almost full sun (except perhaps for the hottest hours in the afternoon) as soon as all danger of frost is over.

Alternatively you may plant them directly where they are to grow in the garden once the soil is workable. (in this case, there is likely little need to be concerned about frosts, unless one if forecast and the seedlings have germinated—in which case a newspaper covering of the seedlings should protect them.) Since the plants will be fairly large, space the seeds well, and when the seedlings have achieved a height of about ten cm (4”) thin them out to one every 45-50 cm (18”) in rows at least 60 cm (preferably 80-90 cm) apart.

As you plant the seeds cover them with .5 to 1 mm (about ¼ inch) of soil or sand to aid in germination. Romanesco plants like both nitrogen and potash, so be sure the fertilizer you use has reasonable quantities of both.

As to problems, occasionally both cauliflower and Romanesco may appear with brown centres and die-back of leaves. This is generally caused by a lack of boron in the soil and can be corrected by applying a liquid seaweed product every two weeks until the symptoms disappear. Ensuring that the soil into which the seedlings are planted contains plenty of compost from the home compost pile should prevent the boron problem.

Some insects such as aphids, flea beetles, and cabbage maggots can also be a problem, but control with the regular insecticides should work.

Once the heads (curds) of regular white cauliflower are formed it is generally suggested to bend a few of the plant’s own leaves and pin them together so the curd is partly covered. This prevents the sun damaging the curd and discolouring it. This may also be done on Romanesco plants to prevent sun burn, but it may not be necessary.

Harvest your Romanesco (in about 85 days after planting out) when the heads feel firm, and the size is to your liking.

So there you have it, what might be called a primer on a vegetable that I have never grown, but hope to do so soon.

   

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