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Romanesco leaves offer a distinct, nutty flavor that is sweet when young but can develop a sharper bite with maturity. They may be harvested periodically as the Romanesco head develops, or all at once at the end of the growing season.
Romanesco leaves are available in the spring and fall.
Romanesco is a cool weather crop botanically known as Brassica romanesco. Sometimes called Romanesco broccoli or Romanesco cauliflower in North America, the French call it Romanesco cabbage while the Italians refer to it as broccolo Romanesco. It is a close cousin of broccoli and cauliflower and grows in a similar manner with a central floret surrounded by broad leafy greens. The leaves are an underutilized culinary ingredient as they are usually trimmed away before packaging for the market.
Romanesco leaves are a good source of vitamin A, B and K as well as folate, fiber, iron, manganese, carotene, protein, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Romanesco leaves can be eaten raw or steamed, braised, stewed, fried, sauteed, and even baked like a chip. The leaves can be prepared just like any other hearty green such as kale, collards or cabbage. Sauté the leaves with garlic, sesame, soy sauce and ginger for an easy side dish. Simmer Romanesco leaves with other vegetables to make a vegetable broth. Romanesco leaves can be added to basil and olive oil to make pesto. The leaves pair well with bay leaves, oregano, thyme, red pepper flakes, nutmeg, shallots, onions, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, cheddar cheese, roasted meats, chorizo sausage, pancetta and chicken.
Romanesco leaves are rarely used for culinary purposes in developed countries. Their commercial value is minimal and is often discarded to show off the beauty of the romanesco's fractal pattern instead. The leaves are most often consumed by home growers where they can harvest the leaves at different stages of the plant's life and maximize its usage. They may be added to a popular Italian dish called "in umido", which are vegetable greens braised in tomato sauce.
Romanesco is a unique Italian variety of broccoli originally grown in Naples and Rome as early as the 16th century. Romanesco is believed to have been a result of selective breeding and although the vegetable has been around for centuries it is only recently becoming popular. Romanesco grows well in cool moist conditions and has been growing in the California since the 1990s.