Late fall at the farmers market makes me think of the fourth movement, Finale, of Franz Joseph Haydn's "Farewell" Symphony (No. 45, dated 1772): During it, one by one the musicians leave the stage until at the end only two violins are left to play the final notes. One by one, the summer markets have ended, until only the Saturday one on the Arcata Plaza is left (which thankfully happens year-round). One by one, favorite summer fruits and vegetables have disappeared from the market stalls. As I am writing this, I still have some eggplant, sweet peppers and tomatoes, but I know I am listening to each one's last notes before their exit.
However, there is only so much I can dwell on what gets subtracted. The market offers many varieties of winter squash, fuyu and hachiya persimmons for a bright note of color, and leeks, Brussels sprouts and other cultivars of Brassica oleracea — the wonder species. From broccoli to cabbage and cauliflower, from kale to kohlrabi and more, many vegetables that regularly grace our table belong to that species. And while they may not all dazzle the eyes with brilliant colors, their shapes are interesting and sometimes utterly intriguing.
Take, for example, the vibrant chartreuse Romanesco, which is often linked to the mathematical concept of fractals. If you cut a specimen into florets you see that each small piece looks like the whole. In mathematics, this property is called self-similarity, a defining feature of abstract geometrical objects called fractals.
A nice article by Etienne Farcot explains: "Cauliflowers present a high level of such self-similarity, involving seven or more copies of the 'same' bud. This is most conspicuous on the ... Romanesco broccoli .... What is striking about the Romanesco is the very well defined, pyramidal buds which accumulate along endless spirals."
Self-similarity aside, if you've never tried Romanesco broccoli, I invite you to put a head into your shopping bag and let yourself be charmed by its mesmerizing shape, crunchiness and delicate, slightly nutty flavor. I should not forget to note that it is nutritious, being a good source of vitamins C and K, fiber and carotenoids.
Romanesco broccoli can be prepared in many ways. In the recipe I share here, it is the protagonist of a soup. Temperatures have already dipped low enough to justify pots of soup on the stove and I find a steaming bowl of soup is the best comfort during a storm. I often make soup the day before I plan to eat it to allow the flavors to blend. This Romanesco broccoli soup is delicate in flavor, so it does well as opening act for any main course. I tested the addition of nut butter, a food I have come to rely on — including eating straight from the jar or dipping into it roasted sliced winter squash.
Romanesco Broccoli Soup
1 ¼ pounds Romanesco broccoli, trimmed to yield a clean weight of 16-18 ounces
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
4 ounces red onion, diced small
½ tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 ½ cups chicken broth or stock, or vegetable broth, preferably homemade, divided
2 ½ cups water
3 tablespoons unsweetened nut butter of choice (e.g., walnut cashew, roasted almond or almond cashew)
½-1 teaspoon fine sea salt, to taste
Heat the oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat.
Cut the Romanesco broccoli into bite-sized florets. Peel the stalk and cut it crosswise into coins.
Do not discard the tender leaves: You can roast them and eat them like kale chips.
Place the Romanesco broccoli in a bowl and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Toss well to coat, then spread on the prepared baking sheet in a single layer. Place it in the oven and roast for 20 minutes, until just tender. Set aside.
In a large pot, warm up the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion and stir well. Cook for a couple of minutes on medium-low heat, then add the grated ginger and stir well. Cover the pot and cook on low heat until the onion is soft, 8-10 minutes, stirring often.
Add the Romanesco broccoli to the pot and stir for 1 minute. Pour 1 cup of the broth and all the water into the pot. Cover, bring to a boil and cook on low heat until you can mash a floret with the back of a wooden spoon against the side of the pot, 20 minutes or so.
Sprinkle in ½ teaspoon of the sea salt and stir. Let the soup cool for 20-30 minutes, then purée with an immersion blender. Before you finish the processing, warm up the remaining ½ cup of broth in a mug using a microwave and stir in the nut butter until smooth. Pour the nut butter and broth mixture into the soup and process to blend well. Taste and adjust the salt as needed.
When ready to eat, heat the soup, ladle it in bowls and serve immediately.
Simona Carini (she/her) also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her blog www.pulcetta.com and shares photographs on Instagram @simonacarini. She particularly likes to create still lives with produce from the farmers market.