Last week I got to do the equivalent of hanging out back stage at a Rolling Stones concert — I got to go to a “managers’ breakfast” with the rock stars of Berkeley Bowl. Diane and Glenn Yasuda opened up Berkeley Bowl in the 1970’s and have built a dedicated team of produce buyers and managers that all gather for breakfast once a month. One of the highlights for me was when one of the managers and photographer extraordinaire, Javier, showed us some of the close-ups he took of Berkeley Bowl produce and we all played “name that exotic vegetable.” Even after blogging about exotic produce for months, the produce buyers Glenn and Nick were hard to beat. It was also fun chatting with Diane, a fellow dietitian and foodie.
I knew this was a family business, but what struck me is how much their staff is an extension of this family, sticking together throughout the years. Some of them started hanging out at the store as kids and twenty years later are still working there. I think that is a testament to the heart and soul behind this iconic establishment.
After breakfast we all walked over to Berkeley Bowl and parted ways to get to work. As I ran around the store looking for inspiration for my next recipe, it felt different. This place that I’ve been shopping at for fourteen years and blogging about for months felt a little more like home now that I knew some of the faces and stories of the people making it possible.
Maybe that was what made me finally pick up the romanesco. Like Berkeley Bowl as a whole, romanesco is immediately impressive to anyone who walks in off the street. But when you look a bit closer and understand the intricacies behind what you’re looking at, it becomes even more impressive. Aside from its electrifying chartreuse color that draws curious shoppers like a moth to a flame, the close-up is what is truly jaw-dropping about this vegetable.
Remember “fractals” from geometry? No? Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales, formed from chaotic equations — in other words, beautiful natural patterns that break into smaller sections that are similar to the original. Well, romanesco is a perfect, natural example of a fractal. In fact, if you want to get really nerdy, it’s actually an approximation of the golden spiral, in which every quarter turn is farther from the origin by a factor of phi. It’s as if God let his nerdy mad scientist friend, Marv, take a stab at improving the cauliflower. As the Fractal Foundation nicely puts it, fractals are SMART: Science, Math, and Art! What could be better?
With a similar taste and texture to it’s relative, the cauliflower, romanesco is delicious prepared in any method that compliments cauliflower: roasting whole, cutting into crunchy florets for crudités, steaming for a quick and healthy side, or sautéing to throw on pasta or with stir-fry. This vegetable is just too much fun to look at and to eat, so I decided to prepare it two ways for my blog.
As someone who loves to snack on pickles as a tasty and light after-work snack, I decided to throw some romanesco florettes into a jar for some quick pickles and boy oh boy, were they crunchy and delicious. I also wanted to keep one raw to preserve its bright green color and crunch, so I combined it with purple cabbage in a super-healthy slaw that is as chromatically attractive as it is delicious.
Whatever preparation method you choose, don’t forget to take a minute to stare at the intricate spirals and marvel at the exquisite beauty contained in our universe. And then maybe bust out your old AP calculus graphing calculator and calculate the logarithm of your fractal veggie. Or not…
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon mustard seed
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 inch nub of fresh ginger, chopped
- 1 red chili, sliced
- 2 sprigs of fresh dill
- 1 romanesco, cut into florets
Heat water, vinegar, salt and sugar in a small saucepan until just simmering and the salt and sugar are dissolved. Meanwhile, place all remaining ingredients in a 24-oz jar with a lid. Pour the hot vinegar solution over the top. Let cool before covering with a lid and storing in the refrigerator. Pickles will be ready to eat after a couple hours but will be more flavorful if you let them sit at least a day or two.
Romanesco Slaw with Apples and Walnuts
- 3 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 3 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 1/2 head of purple cabbage, shaved
- 3 green onions, white and green parts sliced
- 1 romanesco
- 1 green apple, seeded and sliced thinly
- 2/3 cup chopped walnuts
Combine the first four ingredients to make a dressing. Pour over the shaved cabbage and green onions in a large salad bowl and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
When ready to serve, prepare the romanesco by separating into florets. Set aside the smallest, bite-sized florets, and chop the larger florets into 1/2-inch pieces. Add the chopped florets and apple slices to the cabbage slaw and mix well. Top with the walnuts and decorate with the small romanesco florets before serving.