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A Zippy Pasta Recipe to Justify Buying that Beautiful Romanesco

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I am always looking for an excuse to purchase romanesco. When the weather grows cool and the chartreuse, fractal-tipped brassica starts popping up in the farmers market or the grocery store, I'm always hypnotized by its alien beauty. "Buyyy meeeeee," it whispers, as seductively as a vegetable could possibly whisper. When the romanesco calls, who am I to resist?

Baby Purple Cauliflower and Baby Romanesco: Cute as Buttons
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Baby Purple Cauliflower and Baby Romanesco: Cute as Buttons

But what does one do with romanesco? Roast it? Sure. Serve it in unexpected risottos? Why not. Use it to gussy-up a crudité plate? Of course. But there's another way to appreciate romanesco, one that's exceedingly low-maintenance and also intensely satisfying: in pasta, my favorite way to eat anything!

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This recipe comes from the brilliant Il Corvo, a teensy pasta restaurant in Seattle. Helmed by James Beard Award–nominated chef Mike Easton and his wife and partner Victoria Diaz Easton, Il Corvo is only open for weekday lunch and features a streamlined menu of kale salad, fluffy focaccia, and three rotating pasta options inspired by whatever is seasonal or looks good (the pappardelle with ragù, though, is always available). They post their two original pasta dishes online every day, and a line starts snaking around the corner soon after they open at 11 a.m. (One of today's options included fiore with kohlrabi, crème fraîche, and garlic, and I'm very bummed that I am nowhere near Seattle.)

A few months ago I was visiting Seattle and, as any self-respecting pasta lover would do, stopped for lunch at Il Corvo. When I craned my neck around the buzzing line to check out the menu board, my eye was drawn to a pasta dish featuring romanesco, chili, and capers. Me! Me! Me! And it lived up to my expectations: The pasta was sweet from a sprinkling of currants, briny from the capers, spicy from a shake of chile flakes, and savory from both its body of chopped tomatoes and Parmesan cheese topping. But perhaps the best part of the whole dish was the romanesco florets scattered throughout. They were tender and flavorful; without a doubt the best iteration of romanesco I had ever tasted.

Can you spy the the romanesco spirals?
Can you spy the the romanesco spirals? Photo by Rocky Luten

Later, I tried to recreate the pasta at home, trying to corral the competing flavors of sweet, savory, and spicy into a simulacrum of the coherent, addictive dish I craved. I added golden raisins instead of currants because I like golden raisins more. I added tomato paste to achieve a punchy, intense tomato flavor, and deglazed the pan with some white wine to get up any stuck bits of garlic and onion. I discovered that I could cook the romanesco in the sauce itself, leaving it more crisp and flavorful than if it had been blanched.

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Can you use cauliflower instead of romanesco in this dish? By all means; it would be amazing! Make sure to use a ridged pasta for this to catch every bit of the chunky sauce, and cover the whole thing with a healthy grating of Parmesan cheese.

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Pasta with Romanesco, Capers, and Chiles

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Serves 4 to 6
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 head romanesco, florets sliced off and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed if packed in salt
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 14-ounce can of whole tomatoes
  • 3/4 pound tubed, ridged, or ruffled pasta, for catching the sauce
  • parmesan cheese, for serving
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What's your favorite way to cook romanesco, or have you yet to try this intriguing brassica? Tell us below!

Tags: romanesco, pasta, vegetarian pasta, vegetables