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Romanesco Broccoli: Fibonacci of the Garden

Growing new varieties each season keeps the garden interesting.  Since we focus on heirlooms and open pollinated varieties here at Gardenerd, our choices are not new, but rather newly discovered.  After a slight seed debacle last year where we grew seeds from an (unnamed) seed company that purchased Romanesco seeds from an untrustworthy supplier, resulting in Romanesco that looked nothing like Romanesco, we tried again this year with guaranteed seed. 

What a success!

A Romanesco head just starting to separate, about 6″ in diameter

Romanesco broccoli is a bright chartreuse addition to the garden in fall (in warmer climates) or cool spring.  Its leaves are Jurassic in size, so it needs some room (that said, we still planted ours 12″ apart).  The leaves are edible, but you may want to choose smaller leaves or cut out the stem of larger leaves.

Like cauliflower, it can be tricky to get the plant to form a head.  We have broccoli, cauliflower and Romanesco growing in the same bed, and our broccoli and Romanesco headed up, but the cauliflower didn’t.   We’re still holding out, but the outlook isn’t good.  Research shows that too much nitrogen can cause leafy growth with no head, but our garden tends toward nitrogen deficiency, so I’m guessing we need more phosphorus for better fruit and flower production.

Do the Math
In addition to being a beautiful addition to the garden, Romanesco broccoli provides a math lesson for students and adults who don’t get cross-eyed thinking about math.  It’s a great example of Fibonacci numbers and fractals.  Fibonacci numbers are a series of numbers, invented/discovered by Leonardo Fibonacci, where “each number after 1 [is] equal to the sum of its two predecessors.”  That quote comes from a great website that uses Romanesco and sunflowers (you could use pineapples too) to explain the series:

To harvest Romanesco, pick the entire head before it starts to separate (not like our photo above, which was a day or two late).  Heads should feel tight and compact when you squeeze them.  Picking late doesn’t reduce the flavor of the broccoli, it just opens it up to aphid infestation.  One of the beautiful things about Romanesco is that it is so tightly formed, aphids can’t get in.

Romanesco is reported to be less bitter than cauliflower and broccoli.  We found ours to be very sweet and delicious.  Since it was our first harvest, we prepared it simply to experience the flavors.

Chopped stems and florets drizzled with olive oil, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and a little garlic powder

Put about a 1/4″ of water at the bottom of the pan, cover and bring to a simmer.  Set your timer for 5 minutes then serve immediately.

We served it up with some hoisin-glazed tempeh and a brown rice / pearled barley combo.


Sweet and savory

Romanesco is a beautiful heirloom that can enhance any garden.  It’s also a great conversation piece.  If you’ve grown it, share your experiences with us here.

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