Uncategorized · Vegetarian

The Duo’s Ethnic Exploration: Italian

By the time this month’s exploration came around, we were for the first time at a loss on what to make. What region of the world should we explore this month? The answer didn’t come quite as quickly as in the past. After some lengthy deliberations, we honed in on Italy. Chrystal did just return from a marvelous New Years vacation in this renowned country, and we loved the idea of finding something different to make in a familiar genre of food. So, boom, it was decided. This month we explore the Italian peninsula—dilemma solved! Well, not quite…

We pride ourselves in trying new things, so our mission from the start was to find an Italian specialty interesting enough to share. Even though Italian food has solidified its place in our culture’s palate—we’ve been slicing pizzas and forking pastas basically our whole lives—we were confident there were a few “out-the-box “Italian dishes out there just waiting to be discovered. And soon into our search, we landed on one dish in particular that stuck out! For whatever reason we were hell-bent on making carciofi alla giudia, a fried whole artichoke easy to find the the Jewish sector of Rome. It was different, it was easy (or so it appeared), and it looked amazing. Now we had the dish decided, we had a list of local Italian markets to narrow down, and we had our zeal ready to lead us on. Super!

Further researching indicated that, for best results, we needed to use a specific variety of artichoke–the smaller ones that are purple in color. Well, as luck would have it, not one Italian market carried this breed of artichoke, nor did any market we sought out. In fact, none of the food stores in our area had any artichokes available. What to do now? Well, our rationales lead us to wholeheartedly believe that at least one local farmers market would not fail us. It was a sunny, hot January afternoon, and the farmers markets were in full swing at this time of the day. We just knew we’d get our elusive artichokes there.

Well, you probably guessed by now that we encountered an epic fail. We were simply a month too soon. The farmers kindly informed us that artichokes won’t be around for a few more weeks. This whole expedition then turned into a desperate attempt to hold onto making carciofi, but the cards were not in our favor. We started brainstorming some other options when, at the second farmers market (yep, we went to two!), we stumbled upon romanesco. We both stared at the Italian, horn-shaped, broccoli-cauliflower hybrid. We could make something with this. We may not be able to fry an artichoke today, but we can fry a romanesco. We were saved!

The farmer who sold this veggie recommended roasting it in just some salt, pepper and olive oil, as did most of the recipes we found. We weren’t sure if we could actually fry this guy. But, what the hey, we stubbornly didn’t want to make any other Italian food, so we were going to make some form of this Roman dish one way or the other. In the end, everything came out splendidly. We decided to have the romanesco two ways–braised, also known as ‘alla romana’, and fried, ‘alla giudia’. We would just sub the artichoke for this other Italian vegetable. The flavor and texture of romanesco is most definitely that of a mixed bunch of broccoli and cauliflower florets. If you like either one of those, you will most likely adore romanesco. You could roast it, cut it into chunks and mix them into a bowl of gnocchi or another pasta. Do pursue the romanesco if you can. It has full flavor and a tender texture.

Chrystal brought back a few treats from Rome, including oils, balsamic vinegars and lemon liqueur. We decided to use some of these things in our dishes. They would be perfect to include in the braised version for extra flavor. Sweet lemons have been at a few markets, and we thought they’d look nice fried too. We’d pop a few slices into the oil with the romanesco florets and serve them along side. You could also whisk up a thick aioli to dip the crispy bunches by the forkful. Everything tastes good with aioli! The moral of this month’s venture is always to stay flexible. Obviously a Google search on seasonal vegetables may have saved a few moments of headache during this whole journey. And, of course, we learned that just about every time, exploring your local farmers market saves the day!

Romanesco ‘alla Romana’ (Braised Romanesco) – Serves 2 (Inspired from Mario Batali)
1 romanesco, leaves and stem removed
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon liqueur (We used Limonce.) or 1/4 cup white wine
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Stir together the herbs, salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small bowl. Use a spoon to carve out a small cavity at the bottom of the romanesco. Stuff herb mixture into the cavity, then set the vegetable into a medium sized pot with the stuffed side touching the bottom.

2. Pour water about 1/3 of the way up the side of the romanesco (about 2 cups of water), along with 1 tablespoon oil and remaining ingredients. Cover and let simmer on low heat for 30 minutes, or until fully cooked (add more water as needed should the pot become dry). When ready, the romanesco should be soft, but not mushy. Serve warm. Garish with additional mint and parsley.

Romanesco ‘alla Giudia’ (Fried Romanesco) – Serves 2
1 romanesco, leaves and stem removed
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
2 cups olive oil (not extra virgin), or cooking oil

1. Break the romanesco into smaller florets. Quickly boil florets in a pot of salted water for about 4-6 minutes, or until they just begin to soften.

2. To stop them from cooking further, remove from heat and place in a separate bowl filled with ice water. Meanwhile, heat oil in a medium saucepan.

3. Drain romanesco and pat dry with paper towels to remove excess water. Fry in hot olive oil for 4-6 minutes, or until they turn golden brown.

4. Remove from oil, place on paper towels and season to taste. Let cool for 2 minutes before serving.

Click HERE for printable recipes.

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21 thoughts on “The Duo’s Ethnic Exploration: Italian

  1. Wow, I saw that first pic and was wondering “what on earth IS that?!” Looks like some bizarre alien veggie! It’s a shame they don’t sell it around here though – I’d try it out of sheer curiosity.

  2. I love romanesco! I’ve never cooked it myself but it’s been on my list of to-dos for awhile now. You are nudging me to try it out at home. Yum!!

  3. I so much love Romanesco broccoli. I only cooked it 2 before but I loved it every time. I must try your tasty & well flavoured dish, my friends!

    MMMMMMMMM,…! I think that this veggie looks like it comes from outer space!!

  4. That almost looks like a beautiful pastry. What a great substitution. I’m not that fond of the ‘chokes, but I’ve never tried romesco and I’m sure I’d like almost anything fried. If I can find one, I’m trying this. What fun!

    I envy Chrystal, but I do hope to make it to Italy for my anniversary later this year. Looking forward to some food adventures while I’m there.

  5. well i have to say you are daring and teaching.
    as much of a good chef as i like to think i am, i never have tried that. only because it’s so ugly. but now that you’ve tested it out for me and all, i’m going in. the vegan waters are safe! LOL

  6. I’ve seen that before but didn’t realize it was a combo of broccoli and cauliflower – can’t wait to pick it up and try it. And it goes without saying that anything fried is better! 😀

  7. What a twisted (literally) vegetable! I have never heard of romanesco before reading your post. It reminds me of the mining vehicles used in the movie Total Recall.

    I’ll have to keep my eye out for this unusual veggie since my boy loves broccoli. I think he would like the funky look of this.

    I’ve been reading your blog for quite awhile and was hoping one day you would make carciofi alla giudia, how come you all never make it? (ha ha, running away and ducking as you throw things at me)

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