Romanesco Two Ways: Pickles and Slaw

MyBerkeleyBowl_Romanesco.jpgLast 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.MyBerkeleyBowl_Romanesco.jpg

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.MyBerkeleyBowl_Pickled Romanesco.jpg

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.MyBerkeleyBowl_Romanesco.jpg

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?MyBerkeleyBowl_Romanesco Slaw.jpg

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.MyBerkeleyBowl_Romanesco Slaw.jpg

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.MyBerkeleyBowl_Romanesco Slaw.jpg

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…

Pickled Romanesco

  • Servings: one 24-oz jar
  • Time: 5 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 2 cups waterMyBerkeleyBowl_Pickled Romanesco.jpg
  • 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

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 15 mins
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
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  • 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.

Roasted Leeks with Blood Oranges

MyBerkeleyBowl_Roasted Leeks Blood Oranges.jpegThis week’s recipe is one that I developed for an article I wrote for Bay Area News Group, just released this morning. Given the Roasted Leeks Blood Oranges.jpeg“mainstreamedness” of the readership, I had to keep things a bit more tame to be accessible to a wider audience, while still giving the recipes an “exotic” spin to stay true to the My Berkeley Bowl theme. This recipe must be my favorite of the four new ones I developed for the article, because I’ve made it five times in the past month.

While neither leeks nor blood oranges are blow-you-out-of-the-water exotic, I figure that since blood oranges are not readily available at most “normal” grocery stores, they fall on the exotic side of the line. And leeks — well, most people that have used leeks have only sliced them up as a muted ingredient playing a minor role in the background of soups or casseroles, like an extra in a movie. So in that sense, I think this recipe is super exotic because leeks are the star of the show for once.MyBerkeleyBowl_Roasted Leeks Blood Oranges.jpeg
 I remember the first time I took a bite of protagonistic leeks like a girl remembers her first kiss. It was a cold, rainy day of February in Northern Spain and my mom, husband and I were on a road trip. We ordered a roasted leek salad in a nondescript bar filled with old spanish men sipping beer and escaping the rain. (Spoiler alert: when you order whatever dish is carelessly scrawled across the chalkboard hanging over a dingy locals’ bar on a quiet street in a Spanish town, Spain always delivers.) This salad came out topped with caramelized leeks as thick as rolling pins, and when I bit into them, I was blown away by how velvety, delicate, and exquisitely flavorful they were when prepared that way. My mom immediately shouted “otra!” to the waiter, knowing that we’d need at least one more salad if she actually wanted to get any (she couldn’t out-fork Mike and I when it was that good).MyBerkeleyBowl_Roasted Leeks Blood Oranges.jpeg
 That salad we had in Northern Spain was the inspiration for this dish, in which I braise leeks with wine and thyme until they are just as velvety and rich as the ones I had that rainy day in February. The sections of blood oranges add the brightness and color that make this dish all the more memorable. It makes a beautiful and unique side dish for a dinner party, or if you love leeks as much as I do, you can enjoy it on its own as a light dinner like Mike and I have been doing.MyBerkeleyBowl_Roasted Leeks Blood Oranges.jpeg
 As a side note, I discovered in my research that blood oranges are actually a result of a natural mutation! How splendidly wonderful is nature?!? Apparently, the Italian dude that first peeled one of his oranges thinking it was just a regular old orange-colored orange was so shocked to see the deep red color that he shouted “tarocco!” meaning “fake” or “phoney” in Italian, and is now the name of one of the three main varieties of blood oranges (along with Moro and Sanguinella). How rare is it now in day to find that something so beautiful and unique is made that way naturally, not by some gimmick or trick? MyBerkeleyBowl_Roasted Leeks Blood Oranges.jpegFortunately, this whole dish is free of gimmicks — just 100% natural, delicious, beautiful goodness. I hope you enjoy this first recipe of 2016.

Roasted Leeks with Blood Oranges

  • Servings: 4 as starter or side dish
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 6 leeks, roots and dark green tops removed
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 blood oranges

Dressing:

  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Sherry vinegar
  • Black pepper and a pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove the tougher, outermost layers of the leeks and discard. Slice them in half lengthwise and run under cold water to remove all the grit, ensuring to rinse between the layers. Place the leeks in a single layer in a 9×13″ roasting pan, cut side down. Drizzle with the olive oil, wine, and vegetable stock (the liquid should come about halfway up the leeks), and snip the thyme sprigs over the top. Roast for 35-45 minutes, flipping the leeks over halfway through, until they are tender and lightly browned. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Arrange the leeks on a serving platter. Cut the rind off the blood oranges, slice into sections, and arrange over the top of the leeks. Place all the ingredients for the dressing in a small jar and shake to combine. Drizzle over the top of the leeks and oranges. Serve room temperature.

Watermelon Radish and Pineapple Carpaccio

I work in Fruitvale, the latino neighborhood of East Oakland, where all the signs are in Spanish, tamale carts are part of the morning commute, and technicolor quinceañera dresses fill shop windows. But I think my all-time favorite part about Fruitvale is the fruit carts.

Around lunchtime you can find a fleet of fruit carts along International Blvd, the main street running through the neighborhood. I can’t resist them. Ever. Baggies of fresh-cut fruits — the kind that is so annoying to prepare yourself — just sit there in perfect temptation: mango, watermelon, jicama, papaya, cucumber, coconut. And as if that weren’t tempting enough, your saliva production will go into high gear as you watch the fruit cart lady squeeze a lime, salt and chili powder on top before handing you your baggie. It is this fruit cart experience that inspired this simple but delicious recipe.

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Well, it’s not really a recipe. It’s more of a “display.” Just whip out your mandolin (or a really sharp knife) and slice a watermelon radish and a pineapple super thin, and then display them beautifully on a plate. Then get in the mindset of a fruit cart lady: a squeeze of lime… a sprinkling of salt… a dash of chili powder…  a big smile and a “que tenga un buen dia.” There isn’t a more simple and stunningly beautiful way to enjoy this gorgeous radish, in my opinion.

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The watermelon radish, also known as shinrimei or red meat radish, is a type of heirloom daikon. Its pale green exterior and bright pink flesh make it look like…you guessed it…a watermelon. While it doesn’t taste like a watermelon, it is slightly sweeter and less peppery than a common red radish.

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This nutritious veggie is a member of the brassica family, like broccoli and kale, which gets a lot of love in the nutrition world for being an antioxidant- and anticarcinogen-wielding superhero. In fact, the Chinese have their own version of our old adage “an apple a day…” but using a radish: “Eating pungent radish and drinking hot tea, let the starved doctors beg on their knees.” In addition to its healing and health benefits, it’s very bikini-body friendly, with only 16 calories in a cup.

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You can enjoy this stunning radish in so many ways, so buy a couple and get crazy. I pickled some (see below), I threw some on salads, and I just ate them straight up. But the carpaccio was my favorite so it’s the one I’m sharing with you!

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Watermelon Radish and Pineapple Carpaccio

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Time: 5 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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  • 1 watermelon radish
  • 1/2 small pineapple
  • 1 lime
  • sea salt
  • chili powder

Slice the radish thinly using a mandolin or very sharp knife. Trim the outside off the pineapple and slice it in thin rounds as well. Lay out the slices on a plate. Juice a lime over the radish and pineapple slices, sprinkle with salt and chili powder, and enjoy!

Ramped-up Mushrooms

wpid-img_20150425_192100.jpgThis post on ramps was brought to you by my husband’s journal. Let me explain. He writes a daily entry in a journal that is meant to be written in a little each day for five straight years (he hasn’t missed a day).  This book, containing nuggets from our daily lives— from quotidian to momentous— has
probably become our most prized
possession.  Each day he writes a line and, right above it, he can see what we did that same day during each year prior.  If all it says above is “Laura made veggie burgers and we watched Downton Abbey,” he usually keeps it to himself. But when it’s an especially interesting, noteworthy or fond memory, he usually reads it to me.wpid-img_20150426_120934.jpgSo yesterday, Mike read me the entry from exactly one year ago because it happens to be one of our favorite days of our entire year living abroad. We had spent a glorious spring day hiking around Kahlenberg, a hill famous for its rolling Riesling vineyards and stunning views of Vienna in the distance. But the fondest part of the memory is— you guessed it— the food.Danube (61)012d86a7fd251a0866d1b511db083231db327a3410

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Danube (66)Exhausted from the hike, we felt we deserved a nice meal and so we picked out a place to eat using my tried-and-true requisite for choosing a restaurant when traveling abroad: no English menu. We took seats at Schimanko’s Winzerhaus under a vine-covered arbor on the patio and tried to decipher the menu. Stuffed inside the typed menu was a separate, hand-written insert with the words “BÄRLAUCH ZEIT!” scrawled across the top. Every dish below it included the word bärlauch. Mike’s six years of German study in high school were enough for him to tell me that zeit means season, but bärlauch? No idea. We asked the waiter, who spoke good English, what it meant. “Bärlauch? It is, vell… I don’t know in English. Green leaves, only here in spring, like onion, delicious…”  We knew we wanted to order this exciting, in-season mystery ingredient that these Austrians were so excited about, so we took the plunge and ordered bärlauch soup, bärlauch stuffed mushrooms, and bärlauch pasta. We also ordered two glasses of crisp Riesling which we clinked together in a “Prost!” and a “here’s hoping we like bärlauch…”

wpid-img_20150425_191929.jpgWe didn’t like it. We LOVED it. That green mystery plant floating in our soup, dotting our mushrooms, and creamed into our pesto pasta was so flavorful and complex. We spent the meal “ooooing” and “aaahhing,” trying to guess what it was. It wasn’t green onion, it wasn’t spinach, it wasn’t basil, it wasn’t leek, it wasn’t garlic… but it tasted like all those things. And it was delicious with our Riesling.

wpid-img_20150425_191656.jpgThe first thing we did when we got back to a WiFi zone was look up bärlauch. No wonder! This thing has so many names— ramps (its common name in the U.S.), wild garlic, ramsons, buckrams, broad-leaved garlic, wood garlic and (my favorite) bear’s leek, which is the literal translation of bärlauch.  Apparently it got that name because it’s one of the first edible plants to pop up on the forest floor when bears come out of hibernation in spring, so they just gorge themselves on a barlauch buffet. All I can say is those bears have good taste.

wpid-img_20150424_143352334_hdr.jpgRamps are another member of the allium family (like the green garlic I featured a few weeks ago), so it has a host of health benefits, both nutritional and medicinal. And because it blurs the line between herb, leafy green, garlic, and onion, it has so many culinary uses. But just like bears, humans have to actually forage ramps in the wild, so they are hard to come by in stores. I’ve been patiently awaiting the start of spring, even after the stupid groundhog said it would be six more weeks, and have asked every week at Berkeley Bowl to no avail. And would you believe that yesterday, one year to the day of the journal entry, I finally got my hands on some ramps!

I would like to bring the beauty of the moment when Mike and I shared bärlauch mushrooms and Riesling in Kahlenberg to your very own kitchen. Please pour yourself a crisp glass of white wine and enjoy these ramped-up mushrooms as a sign that spring has sprung (and if you aren’t lucky enough to get your hands on ramps, you can make these mushrooms with a traditional pesto).

Ramped-Up Mushrooms

  • Servings: 4-5
  • Time: 45 mins
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

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  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 bunch ramps (~8 oz), washed well
  • 1/3 cup good olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • optional: 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese (omit if vegan, but you will need to add a bit more salt)
  • 16 portobellini or brown button mushrooms, wiped clean and stems pinched off
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup white wine

Place a frying pan on the stove over medium heat. Add the walnuts and toast for 2-3 minutes, stirring regularly so they don’t burn. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and heat. Meanwhile, trim the root tips off the ramps and roughly chop. Add the ramps to the pan and sauté with the oil and walnuts for 2 minutes until just wilted and deep green. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

Place the ramps mixture in a food processor or blender and add the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and parmesan cheese. Pulse/process until the mixture comes together to form a pesto-like paste. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary. If you like your pesto thinner, you can thin with more olive oil or lemon juice.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Place the mushrooms in the pan, hole-side down, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Let sit for 5-6 minutes so they soften and brown slightly in the oil. Turn the mushrooms over so the hole is facing up and add the white wine to the pan, swishing it around to deglaze the pan and coat the mushrooms. Fill the hole of each mushroom with a dollop of ramps pesto, cover the skillet, and turn the heat the low to cook for 15 minutes or until the mushrooms are nice and soft all the way through.

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Serve with a drizzle of aged balsamic, or for a heartier meal, serve on warm polenta with the deglazed mushroom juices.

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