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Fractalicious Romanesco

Fractalicious Romanesco

Posted 08 May 2010 | By | Categories: Food, Gardening, Plants, Seagarden, Vegetables | Comments Off on Fractalicious Romanesco
fractalicious romanesco

Fancy fractal food: Broccoli Romanesco, Cauliflower Romanesco, or just Romanesco

Today, with great excitement, I harvested my first Romanesco and made a self-similar salad from it by breaking it into Romanesco-shaped pieces and tossing with a little olive oil and kelp granules. Perhaps the most delightfully geeky of all vegetables, the Romanesco is a nearly exact self-similar fractal form that illustrates a Fibonacci sequence. I have seen it in the marketplace as Cauliflower Romanesco and Broccoli Romanesco, and the French call it chou Romanesco, which translates to Cabbage Romanesco, so we’ll just note that it’s a Brassica and refer to it as Romanesco.

This electric chartreuse coloured vegetable offers a more subtle flavour than both cauliflower and broccoli, with a distinctively nutty note. I find it delicious raw, but it can be steamed or prepared in any way that you would with broccoli and cauliflower. And even though the organic ones often seem expensive at the market, I now know they are well worth it.

The Learning Curve

Romanescos at Yunos Farm stand at Abingdon Square Greenmarket, NYC I first became enchanted by Romanesco at the Yunos Farm stand at the Abingdon Square greenmarket in NYC (right), and noted if I ever grew my own vegetables, I would definitely grow this one. What I didn’t know is how much time, energy and water goes into each one. Because it’s always sold with the leaves stripped away, I assumed that the part we buy was the plant. Turns out it’s merely the flower of the plant. A giant plant. (This goes for broccoli and cauliflower too.) I thought I could tuck a few seedlings into the front of the berry patch, but they took over the space entirely for the season (image below).

giant Romanesco plant

The other growing surprise was that amidst an entire orchard, the Brassicas were voted most desirable plant by leaf-munchers and sap-suckers alike. I imagined the insects would go for dessert first, but they chose Romanesco, broccoli and brussels sprouts over berries and grape vines all day long. The most damaging was the hungry green caterpillar of the white cabbage butterfly. Eventually, I caved in and sprayed a trial of the bacteria Bacillus thuringensis Bt, which worked. Many of the plants bounced back entirely and produced beautiful veggies, while a few others never quite got their health back and suffered aphid infestation after the caterpillar menace subsided.

With broccoli, removing the central head stimulates side shoots for later picking. Does Romanesco work the same way? Let me know in comments if you do, and I’ll update when I find out here.

Update: According to Grow Better Veggies, “once the main head is cut, that’s it. You cannot rely on lateral growth for additional minor heads as the season goes on, which is a nice feature of regular broccoli.”

Companion Flower Salad

Flower salad: calendula, hyssop, nasturtium and borage Not only is Romanesco a flower that makes a great companion plant for other edibles in your garden (since everything wants to eat it), but many of the companion plants recommended for growing alongside it (and the rest of the Brassica family) are edible flowers too: (shown at left, clockwise from top right corner) Nasturtium, Hyssop “sweet marigold,” Borage, and Calendula. I don’t know if they distracted a single predator, but they definitely attracted bees, our friends in need, and kept any uninvited plants from crashing the party. They also add colour, beauty and diversity.

How do they taste? I found the Nasturtium too peppery for my palate, but it’s been brilliant in the garden as the earliest to bloom with bright orange blossoms. Borage, the last flower to arrive on the scene after a long period of leaf growth, features delicate blue flowers atop fuzzy stems that taste of cucumber. Hyssop ‘sweet marigold’ has an anise or licorice flavour. Calendula is slightly tangy and bitter and more appreciated for its use in topical tinctures and lotions than cuisine, but its leaves are lovely tossed into salads.

Very Hungry Caterpillars

Very Hungry Caterpillars

Posted 24 March 2010 | By | Categories: Animals, Books, Gardening, Growing Food, Vegetables | Comments

very hungry caterpillars

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric CarleThis week marks the anniversary of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, one of my favorite books as a child. But one glance at the protagonist’s varied diet (food diary lovingly compiled by the Shrinking Sisters) reveals that it is not Pieris rapae rapae (aka cabbage white butterfly, small white butterfly or just white butterfly), Seagarden’s frequent diner.

These soft green consumers grow up and become white butterflies, who then lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves. The caterpillars hatch and begin to feast on a menu of organic tatsoi, kale, bok choy, broccoli and brussels sprouts, i.e. the brassicaceae — in the case of the tatsoi (below), until it’s entirely devoured.

In the organic garden, the main options for stopping this cycle are physical (removing the caterpillars and eggs), chemical (garlic spray as a preventative), and biological (Bacillus thuringiensis aka BT, dipel and thuricide which is a bacterial stomach poison for all caterpillars).

I regularly apply garlic spray, which I suspect the caterpillars enjoy as a tasty marinade, and my strategic companion plantings of hyssop, nasturtium, calendula and cosmos have been interpreted as gifts of affectionate bouquets. A box of BT (in the form of Organic NO Caterpillars) sits on the shelf, but after buying it I found I really don’t have a strong desire to poison the little beings. I guess I value biodiversity more than a perfect crop. (See Dan Barber’s inspiring TED talk featuring systems-thinking measurements of success, such as the the health of the predators and water purified through the farming process.)

I handpick them in the mornings. And sometimes in the evenings. They rotate their fuzzy faces towards mine and channel Mary Oliver, mouthing “Don’t bother me.
I’ve just been born.”
Once I’ve gathered a handful or so, I fling them gently over the fence, into the puka (or beyond). I won’t be replanting tatsoi. How do you deal with very hungry caterpillars?