Romancing Romanesco

Fresh from my very own garden!

Romanesco. It sounds sexy, alluring, Italian. Like a tall, dark and handsome Roman God. But, in reality, it is nothing like the vision the name conjures up. Our eyes met in the produce department of a specialty food store last year. Its tall and pointy bright green clusters of organized mini Christmas trees spoke to me. “Pick me! Pick me!”

Little did I know that this newish, trending vegetable would become one of my favorites. A cross between broccoli and cauliflower and of Italian origin (I love anything Italian!), its densely packed flower buds form repeating spiral patterns that scientists have fun with. Called a “fractal” vegetable, it’s been discussed in mathematical and architectural circles as a miracle of nature.

The taste is earthier than broccoli and the body is firm with a texture more like a cauliflower. I cook it al dente so it retains its bite on the inside while having a softer first outer layer.

When I saw the seedlings in my local nursery last fall, I snatched them up, eager to have a love affair with Romanesco all spring. Watching my new garden additions grow was every bit as exciting as my fava bean experiment. Something different, a new character in my raised beds. The plants took off quickly, shooting three feet skyward, their enormous, sturdy leaves folding over one another. After four months of doting on my Romanesco, waiting for the spiky green vegetable to birth, I almost lost faith. All I had was a garden full of big leaves. Until one day, at the beginning of month five and after my daily inspection, a small chartreuse cone caught my eye, pushing up from the cuddle of her mother leaves. It was happening!

These plants are teaching me patience. Once emerged, they grow quickly. They are so gorgeous, I hated to cut the umbilical cord but I did. I shared this special gem, a la Italian, with my foodie cousin Ali and my gourmet mom.

There are so many ways to prepare Romanesco. I wanted to give it an Italian flair so I cut off each spiral, roasted them and then tossed with fried capers, olive oil, roasted red peppers, minced garlic and red pepper flakes. It does lose some of its vibrant green color in the cooking but the flavor and texture make up for it. There are four more plants in my garden in various stages awaiting for me to show my appreciation by cooking them in some creative way. I have all spring!

Ciao for now,

Mary




Picnic Palette

A feast for the eyes as well.

A feast for the eyes.

Color is the theme of this vibrant and hearty side dish that delivers both bold flavors and textures. Reminiscent of something Italian, it is the picture perfect picnic dish. Using a mandoline or vegetable slicer will make quick work of prepping the veggies. Be sure to slice them thinly, 1/8″ – 1/4″ thick, or you will be waiting forever for it to finish cooking. I used my herbal olive oils from The Virtuous Olive, to really push the flavors. It’s ok to use different veggies from the ones I chose. Just paint your palette and be prepared for rave reviews!

Summer Garden Side
 
Ingredients
  • 1-2 zucchinis, thinly sliced.
  • 2-3 bright red tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1 eggplant, thinly sliced, then cut into half rounds
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1-2 tsp. chopped fresh herbs (thyme, basil, parsley or your choice) or use herbs de Provence
  • salt

Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil an 8 X 10″ pan. The size of the pan is not important. If you are feeding a crowd, use a larger pan and prep more veggies.
  2. Toss veggies lightly in Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
  3. Layer zucchini slices along the side of the pan. Sprinkle with garlic, scatter the herbs and lightly salt. Repeat layering with tomatoes, garlic, herbs and salt, then the eggplant, garlic, herbs and salt. Continue layering until you’ve reached the end of the pan. If there are gaps, like I had in mine, roll up thin slices of zucchini and tomato to form mini roses. They serve a purpose and look pretty too. Drizzle entire dish with Bel Tocco Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Basil Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
  4. Bake for 1 hour or until veggies are soft but not soggy. Let cool and serve either warm or cold.

“Summer night–
even the stars
are whispering to each other.”
— Kobayashi Issa

Enjoy your summertime!

Ciao,

Mary




Artisans and Angels

Pietrasanta, a charming artist colony, is a stone’s throw from Lucca. La Mimosa’s Angela, who is an artist, thought it might be an illuminating place to spend a leisurely day. She was right.

The first of many sculptures I was about to experience. How lovely to be enveloped in children and birds!

Pietrasanta is small and silent but powerful. Her heavy hand of all thing artistic propelled me into a past time of creative exploration.

We stumbled upon this sculptor’s paradise while walking down a lonely street. Curiously, there were no humans present. Only guardians of stone whose stories would remain a secret.

She captured my soul. Her gaze. Her beautiful, confident wings. The clock she embraced. It was as if she was there just for me. I named her Giuliana.

Flying into the skies leg first.

The main piazza is a sculpture garden in itself filled with marble creations. The entire color scheme took my breath away.

The Italians just know how to display vegetables.

Another favorite -chestnuts- are omnipresent. I’ve grown fond of them.
This archway sits in the middle of the street. It is adorned with pomegranates, an ancient and treasured food.
Pomegranates are a favorite of mine so when I noticed the arch lined with them, I just had to share the details.
This ristorante looked alluring. We took a chance and were rewarded. Ristorante Quarantuno. Excellent.
Amber digs into squid ink pasta with local Pietra fish. Absolutely delectable.
Up close version.
Pasta with a light pumpkin sauce. Equally delicious. I do love pasta!

One of the most creative and taste bud tingling desserts I have ever enjoyed. Wine poached pear, cross split and filled with a chestnut purée. Magnificent. Exquisite. I searched high and low for the purée but it alluded me. Perhaps it was homemade.

Domes and olives. My passions are fulfilled.

Colorful Italy. What’s not to love?
More marble art keeping company with the tall brick tower with interior staircases crafted by The Michelangelo.
Pietrasanta oozing with artistic flair.

We were there on Halloween, a day that is just emerging in Italia. I loved this restauranteur’s sense of humor.

So, go explore the hidden and find treasures beyond expectations. This tiny villa was exactly that.

Ciao for now!

Maria