Broccolo Romanesco, Roman Cauliflower with Pasta Recipe

Before I grew to love the broccolo romanesco, Roman broccoli / cauliflower (or as I sometimes hear it being called cavolo romanesco, Roman cabbage) as much as I do, I was freaked out by it. A vegetable that’s vivid, electric green and has all sorts of spiky formations all over it? It looks like something you’d see in a futuristic movie instead of at a vegetable stand in Italy.

You’re not sure whether to take a ninja sword and chop it up so it doesn’t spontaneously reproduce and take over your living room with its spiky cones, or so that you can boil it and smother it in olive oil. I have a personal recommendation: do the second, but use the ninja sword in either case.

Broccolo Cavolo Romanesco, Roman Cauliflower

This broccoli is actually part of the Botrytis Group of the Brassica oleracea species which is in essence wild cabbage. Botrytis means really nothing to me, but it does add to the alien life form theory. I would go as far as to say that broccolo romanesco is the most geeky vegetable we have, winning over regular white cauliflower because of its color and coney spikes that are in a fractal formation.

As far as pairing broccolo romanesco with pasta, I have to give credit where credit is due – Rachel from Rachel Eats, a blog from a British woman living in Rome, is the blog I’m currently living through quite vicariously. Winter is especially tough on a food blogger like myself who spends her days in an office. We need really good, natural light to make those photos sing unless we want to invest in a lightbox or artificial lighting that’s good for photography. And I don’t. At least, not yet. Rachel”s cooking and blogging about it, much as I’d like to if I had access to my kitchen in daylight hours, which I don’t unless it’s the weekend.

So in these winter months, I have a choice: either I use those few daylight hours to stay in the kitchen and photograph, or I go out and do something with them. Guess which one I’ve been choosing?

But back to Rachel. W hen I saw her post about pasta e broccoli, I knew I had to try the simple pairing immediately. Now I have weekly requests for this dish!

If you see steam rising from this photo, it’s not a trick – it was hot and waiting for me to devour it after I finished photographing it, which I promptly did. I can’t wait until next week.

Pasta with Broccolo Romanesco, Roman Cauliflower and Pecorino Romano

Broccolo Romanesco, Roman Cauliflower with Pasta Recipe

Note: I like to use as much of the broccolo romanesco as possible. I suggest cutting up the more tender parts of the stalk into small cubes.

A head of broccolo romanesco (around 1 lb or 1/2 kilo), separated into florets
Extra virgin olive oil (for cooking)
Extra extra read-all-about-it virgin olive oil (for the finishing touch)
Pecorino romano or parmigiano reggiano, to taste
250g of your favorite pasta

  1. Boil salted water in a pot big enough to hold the cut-up broccoli.
  2. Rinse the broccolo and separate it into florets and cutting the larger stalk pieces into cubes. When the water starts boiling, add the broccoli and boil from 5-8 minutes over medium-high heat (but don’t overflow your pot!) The broccoli should be very tender and starting to fall off your fork when pierced.
  3. Remove the broccoli from the salted water, but do not drain it – save the water for the pasta! Bring it to a boil again, adding more water if needed for the amount of pasta you’re cooking, and cook your pasta al dente according to the package directions.
  4. While the water is coming to a boil or the pasta has just been added, in a large frying pan, heat up a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, and a clove of garlic if desired. Add the broccoli florets and saute them over medium-high heat, starting to gently smash them with your wooden spoon so they get nice and creamy.
  5. After the pasta is drained, mix together the pasta and the broccoli off the heat and add an extra touch of the extra-extra very good olive oil so that the crude, uncooked olive oil taste comes through. Serve and add some grated pecorino romano cheese or parmigiano reggiano.

Serves 3-4 people, or two very hungry ones.

Some of the liquid gold I topped off this pasta dish with:

5 liters of Olive Oil from Puglia

Other articles about Broccolo Romanesco:

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  1. says

    I fell in love with that vegetable the first time I ate it in Rome but it’s not so easy to find here on the east coast of the U.S. I made a recipe similar to Rachel’s and wrote about it on my blog a while back.

  2. says

    Love love love broccolo romanesco! Fractal forage over orecchiette (have you tried adding a little arzilla?) and pecorino… blissdom!

    Thanks for this delicious ode to the fractal forage,

    • Ms. Adventures in Italy says

      @Hande…. yum! Very Roman.
      @Eleonora – no, I’ve never tried it with arzilla! Da provare.
      @Michelle – he really wasn’t eating it much, but now he asks for it every week :)

  3. says

    hello Sara
    I love the steam curling up from the pasta and the advice about cutting up the stem is brilliant.
    Thankyou for such a nice and generous mention – not sure I really deserve any credit for this recipe.
    Hope you have a taste of spring in Milan too, it has been sunny here in Rome.

  4. says

    mmm…i used to love to make spaghetti col broccoli, just like that. maybe it’s time to make it again!

    don’t know if it’s related, but botrytis (cenerea), in the wine world is the name of the fungus that attacks grapes in certain microclimates (famous vinous example, Sauternes) and causes what it called “noble rot.” it withers the grapes so that the sugars in the juice become concentrated and the resulting wine is sweet, complex, and can be absolutely stunning.

    i’m curious now how they might be related!

  5. snowmoonelk says

    Wonderful – I had a cauliflower and penne dish in Tuscany the other day. The hostess sautéed some ordinary raw white cauliflower in olive oil, added garlic and chilli flakes, then added chopped tinned tomatoes and simmered until the cauliflower was al dente and the tomatoes were reduced. Delicious and simple and cheap!

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