Surrealist Romanesco

In my family we love three things above all else: food, art in all its forms, and people. (This must be why we love to travel so much!) In elementary school I was the only kid I knew who had a favorite artist (Matisse, for his brilliant use of color and shape). My mom and I have always been firm believers that the museum gift shop is nearly as much fun as the exhibitions themselves, and years ago my mom brought home as a museum souvenir a remarkable cookbook. Called The Impressionists’ Table, the book offers a series of truly delicious- sounding French menus based on Impressionist works of art involving food. This is the kind of book I took immediately to bed with me and stayed up late reading, and it is still crammed with the scraps of paper that I used to mark the many dishes I wanted to try. One of these dishes, deceptively simple but incredibly addictive, entered constant rotation, first in my mom’s house and now in my own.

Surrealist Romanesco

Ever since a lone cauliflower arrived in my box last fall my mouth has been watering for this dish, which I’m sure has its own name but which we in my family call simply “Impressionist Cauliflower,” in honor of the cookbook that brought it to us. My plans for that cauliflower were foiled back in November by the Great Aphid Disaster, and, because I am eating only what arrives in my box, I haven’t had another opportunity. So when a head of romanesco, that fractaled chartreuse cruciferous cousin, showed up in my box, I jumped at my chance. The resulting dish, with its brash color and form, seems better suited to more modernist schools than the refined, genteel white cauliflower side-dish I’m used to (or even like something you might find growing in a corner of a Bosch garden), so I’ve renamed this version of the dish Surrealist Romanesco.

I actually like the taste and texture better with cauliflower, and lately I have been trying out steaming the vegetable rather than boiling it as I usually do. I tend to discount vegetables that aren’t dark green as not being very nutritious, but having recently read up on the amazing nutritional powers of cauliflower (and I assume of romanesco as well) I felt guilty and ashamed at the idea of boiling the goodness out of it.

It was fun to try this recipe out with Romanesco, and, while I think I’ll stick to making it with cauliflower from now on, at least this gives me a great opportunity to pass along a beloved family recipe.

Impressionist Cauliflower
I leave the decision up to you whether to use cauliflower or romanesco (but read this post before you decide), and whether to boil or steam. You want your veggie to be quite, quite tender – NOT mushy, but not crunchy at all.

1 head cauliflower
1 T. red wine vinegar
1/2 t. salt
3 T. olive oil
1 tsp. herbes de Provence

Combine all ingredients except for cauliflower in a small bowl and whisk.

Wash the cauliflower. Separate the florets from the base using a sharp knife. (I usually slice up the base as well – this dish is so good I want to make as much of it as possible from one cauliflower!)

Plunge the florets into a pot of boiling, salted water. Cook ~10 minutes or until tender but firm. Do not overcook

Drain well. Pour vinaigrette over cauliflower. Serve warm or allow to marinate and serve chilled or at room temperature.

Serves 2, max!