Though called broccoli, this unique vegetable is actually closer to cauliflower. Romanesco broccoli heads are really densely packed clusters of lime green flower buds that develop in the center of a leafy rosette.
Unlike the rounded bumps of cauliflower heads, Romanesco broccoli heads have many conical points composed of spirally arranged buds, giving it the appearance of an ornate sculpture or maybe some fantastic seashell.
Harvest the heads when fully grown but before the flower buds start to open. Romanesco broccoli can be prepared like broccoli—it’s especially delicious when roasted or braised with plenty of garlic.
Common name: Romanesco broccoli
Botanical name: Brassica oleracea Botryoides Group
Plant type: Annual vegetable
Zones: Grows best in cooler climates
Height: 10 to 15 inches
• Sun: Full sun
• Soil: Fertile loam or sandy amended with organic matter
• Moisture: Evenly moist but well-drained
• Mulch: 1 to 2 inches of organic mulch such as clean straw or shredded leaves
• Pruning: None
• Fertilizer: Add compost before planting; then topdress with additional compost or apply diluted water-soluble fertilizer weekly.
Pests and diseases
• Caterpillars such as cabbage loopers may eat leaves; watch for them and remove or spray regularly with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis).
• Leaf, stem and root rots may occur, especially in wet conditions.
• As with other mustard family vegetables, Romanesco broccoli grows best in cool temperatures and with plenty of soil moisture.
• Start seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date (if properly hardened off, seedlings can be planted outside a week or more before the last frost date).
• Rotate the location of mustard-family vegetables in your garden each year to help avoid disease problems
All in the family
• Romanesco broccoli is a member of the mustard family (Brassicaceae), a large family that includes many familiar vegetable crops and garden weeds.
• Brassica oleracea started out as a loose-leafed wild cabbage, but centuries of human selection and breeding resulted in many varying forms, including kale, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli. Taxonomists organize these forms into horticultural groups; for example, the Botryoides Group consists of cauliflower, Romanesco broccoli and broccoflower.
Where to buy
• The Cook’s Garden, cooksgarden.com
• Seed Saver’s Exchange,seedsavers.org
• W. Atlee Burpee Co., burpee.com