Romanesco broccoli (close-up)

by Kevin Farrell for USA TODAY 10Best

All you need to know about Romanesco, the world's prettiest vegetable

One piece of produce steals the show every single fall without ever breaking a sweat: Romanesco – the most beautiful vegetable in the world.

Even if the name Romanesco doesn’t ring any bells for you, you’ve likely noticed the striking vegetable before. It looks like broccoli and cauliflower’s fluorescent green cousin that flies in from outer space to visit for a few weeks each year.

Like its more well-known relative, broccoli, what we call Romanesco is actually the edible flowering head of the larger plant itself. But unlike its close relatives, or nearly anything else that humans ingest, Romanesco’s flowering head grows in a naturally occurring fractal.

For those of you who slept through that week of math class, fractals are geometric figures or curves that repeat themselves at a progressively smaller and smaller scale, even as each piece maintains the same form as the whole.

If you can’t quite wrap your rusty mind around that high school concept, just take a peek at the twisty, spiny protrusions of a Romanesco, which spin off into logarithmic Fibonacci spirals.

If you ever see these stunners at a grocery store, grab yourself a head. You’re not likely to get another chance at them, even a few days later. For most of us, a brief window in late summer or a second harvest in early winter are our only shots at enjoying this vegetable.

And speaking of enjoyment, you might be wondering what it tastes like. Romanesco is described as possessing a somewhat earthy taste that meshes elegantly with other flavors like garlic, white wine and even chili peppers.

Like broccoli, Romanesco can be eaten raw, but also holds up well under various cooking methods like stir frying or roasting in an oven. As the florets heat up, they can become surprisingly sweet, making Romanesco a perfect addition to curries and other spicy dishes.

Romanesco is a part of the Brassica family, and like its fellow members cabbage and kale, the vegetable is loaded with vitamins C and K. It’s also rich in fiber, protective carotenoids and a set of phytochemicals that may protect our bodies against molecular degeneration.

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