Our resident chef Mark Hix on the hidden charms of the Romanesco cauliflower

 
Mark Hix

The first time I set eyes on Romanesco I thought it was some weird hybrid broccoli-cauliflower that had landed from another planet. Later in life I discovered it was an ancient member of the cauliflower familly, also known as Roman cauliflower, and has been grown since the 16th century. Over the years I’ve gradually learned to love it, and as far as UK grown autumn and winter vegetables go, it’s pretty damn sexy.

It’s a bit more versatile than cauliflower, and because of its vibrant green colour makes a great, interesting starter option for a dinner party, simply steamed as an accompaniment to fish or meat.

I reckon you will be seeing more and more Roman cauliflower on shelves and restaurant menus – gone are the days of the 80s and 90s, when I was a commis chef, when this kind of veg was looked upon with suspicion by our green grocers.

Recipe: Roman cauliflower with anchovies and capers

SERVES 4

Ingredients

  • 1 medium head of Romanesco or cauliflower, or a mix, cut into florets, and leaves reserved if in good condition

For the dressing:

  • 1 small can of quality anchovies in olive oil, drained and chopped (oil reserved)
  • 3-4 shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
  • 60ml cider vinegar
  • 2tsp Tewkesbury or Dijon mustard
  • 80-90ml olive oil
  • 80-90ml vegetable or corn oil including the oil from the anchovies
  • The juice of 1 lemon
  • 1tbs large capers, washed
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut any large florets in half so they cook evenly. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook the florets for a few minutes, keeping them a little undercooked, then drain in a colander.

Meanwhile, mix all of the ingredients together for the dressing and season to taste.

Put the dressing with the warm cauliflower in a bowl and mix well. Stir every so often as the cauliflower is cooling down to get flavour into the florets. Serve at room temperature.

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