Romanesco broccoli is also known by various other names like the Roman cauliflower, romanesco cauliflower, broccolo romanesco or just romanesco. This edible flower bud has a very weird appearance and it is a member of the species Brassica oleracea. It appears like several hundred miniature fractals in chartreuse (yellow-green) color.
This vegetable was first discovered in Italy, where it is grown widely. People in Italy use this vegetable in the same way as they use cauliflower or broccoli in various vegetable recipes. Romanesco belongs to the cruciferous plant family, which also includes cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli.
Often, romanesco is known as brocco-flower fruit, but it bears close resemblance to cauliflower. While many consider the appearance of this vegetable weird, it is also peculiarly beautiful.
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This vegetable has a unique appearance, which demonstrates a fractal pattern. The vegetable has a growing spiral head that comprises conical florets. A close look at these florets reveals that they also have a spiral structure. This vegetable bears very large waxy leaves that are so big that they can easily hide the plant's edible flowers.
Precisely speaking, this vegetable is a natural cross between broccoli and cauliflower, the two vegetables of the cruciferous family that we are more familiar with. The flavour of romanesco can be compared to that of cauliflower with a trace of nutty zest. According to scientists as well as nutritionists, romanesco is among the fruits that can be digested very easily.
Romanesco broccoli was at first cultivated in Italy. The tenderness of this edible flower makes it an ideal substitute for cauliflower and broccoli in various recipes. Moreover, the somewhat unusual flavour and attractive look of this vegetable helps to enhance the taste of many tried recipes. Compared to broccoli and cauliflower, the cooking time of this vegetable is less.
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The bud or inflorescence of romanesco broccoli is self-similar in nature. The spreading meristems of the bud form a logarithmic spiral structure. From this point of view, the form of the bud is more or less a natural fractal, with each bud made up of a succession of smaller buds. All these buds are arranged in another logarithmic spiral structure. In fact, the self-similar pattern of the bud continues at many smaller levels. However, the pattern can only be called a near fractal, as eventually the pattern ends when the size of the buds becomes very small. Romanesco broccoli is loaded with vitamin C, vitamin K, carotenoids and dietary fiber.
Broccoli romanesco has its origin in Italy, where it was discovered for the first time in the 16th century. As far as the name of the plant is concerned, there is some dispute. This is mainly because this vegetable does not resemble a broccoli and its flavour is also different. As this vegetable is composed of a bunch of individual stalks surrounding a central stem, it can be divided in the same manner as you divide a broccoli or cauliflower. While cooking romanesco you should be especially cautious because its texture may turn out to be very bizarre when cooked for a long time. Avoid overcooking this vegetable in order to obtain its best flavour and texture. Usually, majority of the cooks like to steam this vegetable lightly or sauté it so that they can avoid the problem of overcooking it.
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The best time for planting romanesco is the period between March and June. However, people who reside in regions that are prone to frosting are advised to plant the vegetable only after the last expected date of frost has passed. If you want to grow this peculiar cruciferous vegetable in your garden, you need to prepare an area that is partly shaded and contains alkaline soil. While sowing the seeds or seedling, keep in mind that there is a distance of no less than 18 inches (46 cm) between them. This will allow the plants sufficient space to grow freely. If you wish you can also add fertilizer to the soil to encourage robust growth of the vegetable. Moreover, ensure that you mulch the seedlings so that they retain moisture, especially when grown in places having warmer climatic conditions. These plants need moderate watering and the romanesco heads should ideally be harvested when they have matured completely. Usually, it takes four months from the date of planting for the vegetables to mature fully.
While purchasing romanesco at any store you should search for vegetables having firm heads. Moreover, ensure that they do not have any indication of flaccidity or looseness. Also examine the vegetable closely to see if there is any slick area and/ or discoloration. If the romanesco has greasy or discoloured spots, it is an indication that the vegetable may not be fresh. At the same time, avoid shrunken or dried romanesco broccoli. If you store this vegetable in a refrigerator it will remain viable for as many as seven days. You can also consume this vegetable raw along with spicy dips. Alternatively, you may steam it slightly along with other vegetables to prepare a stimulating meal.
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A well drained soil as well as full sunlight is necessary to ensure the optimum growth of romanesco broccoli. While preparing the seed bed, add sufficient organic matter to the soil and till it well. If you are propagating the vegetable from its seeds, it is advisable that you sow them in May. Plant the romanesco broccoli seed in cooler places for best results. It is better to sow the seeds of this vegetable in seed flats about six to eight week prior to planting the seedlings outdoors. Young romanesco broccoli requires plenty of care in the form of watering regularly as well as weeding in the region of the seedlings with a view to eliminate the weeds that may compete for the water and nutriments meant for the vegetable.
Bear in mind that romanesco broccoli is basically a plant for the cool season. As a result, these plants wither away when they are exposed to elevated temperatures. If you are growing the vegetable in places having temperate climatic conditions, you will be able to harvest the crop twice a year - first in spring and again in early fall. If you sow the seeds of romanesco in the period between the end of July and beginning of August, you can harvest the vegetable in fall.
Findings of many studies have demonstrated that consuming vegetables belonging to the cruciferous family, such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale and romanesco on a regular basis may help in preventing development of some forms of cancer, like kidney cancer, lung cancer and ovarian cancer. Studies undertaken on animals have shown that including romanesco broccoli flower in one's diet stimulates the activity of a gene that is associated with preventing lung cancer.
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Cruciferous vegetables possess explicit protective effect vis-à-vis cancer risks. Epidemiological studies being undertaken currently hint that excessive consumption of vegetables belonging to the cruciferous family would help to particularly lessen the chances of developing lung and stomach cancers among others. However, further research into the subject is necessary to make this controversy clear.
Studies undertaken on animals as well as in vitro have revealed that romanesco broccoli contains a number of active compounds like indole-3-carbinol, which may be helpful in preventing formation of tumour, lessen the growth of carcinogenic cells and, at the same time, encourage their self-destruction - a process known as apoptosis. While these studies mostly concentrate on cancers dependent on hormone, such as breast and prostate cancers, the findings reveal that they have a beneficial result vis-à-vis cervical cancer. Most experts are of the view that further studies are necessary prior to confirming the results on these findings on humans.
Literature data available hint that consuming vegetables belonging to the cruciferous family too often may lessen the chances of metastatic cancer in a section of patients. In other words, if one has been diagnosed with cancer, they should ideally augment their consumption of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and watercress as these will be helpful in keeping the growth of tumour in check.
Similarly, romanesco broccoli is packed with vitamin A, the nutrient required by our eyes to function properly. In addition, vitamin A may also be useful in reducing age-related macular degeneration that results in eye problems and eventually blindness.
Romanesco also contains elevated amounts of iron, which facilitates increased production of red blood cells (erythrocytes). When we have more red blood cells, it means the different parts of our body receive more oxygen and various nutrients through the blood vessels. Increased blood circulation is vital for perking up the functioning of the brain. When the brain receives more oxygen and nutrients, it helps to promote its health, in addition to function better and faster.
Romanesco contains several vitamins, antioxidants and essential minerals that are very helpful in combating various diseases and infections. Similar to other cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli, romanesco cauliflowers are also packed with dietary fibers that help to improve digestion and get rid of the waste from the body. The presence of natural dietary fiber in romanesco broccoli also keeps the cholesterol as well as sugar levels in the bloodstream under check. Similarly, this vegetable also contains rich amounts of vitamin K, B, iron and omega 3 fatty acids, all of which are helpful in promoting the health of the heart considerably. The antioxidant and dietary fiber content of romanesco broccoli is of great help in protecting us from the damages caused by free radicals, thereby shielding us from various health problems including cancer.