What’s Math got to do, got to do with it?


OK – it has to be told. The first time I encountered Broccoli Romanesco (in a Belgian supermarket), I stared, and stared, and (I am not ashamed to admit), stared some more. What was this mad mad looking vegetable? Size and shape of a broccoli/cauliflower, green in color like a common cabbage – all familiar. But good Lord – what were these whorls  and spirals and peaks and troughs and millions of tiny florets? It looked like a genetically mutated broccoli or a cauliflower on steroids, something dreamed up by a crazy scientist furiously mixing away in his lab.

Broccoli Romanesco is a member of the family of cruciferous vegetables which include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, mustard greens, and whole bunch of other leafy greens. These are superbly nutritious and are categorized as `super foods’ which build immunity, cardiovascular health, are anti-carcinogenic, and protect us from a whole range of diseases. But  then, you know most of this blah already.

Steaming, microwaving and stir frying are the best ways to cook these vegetables, resulting in the least loss of nutrients. Boiling is the best way to lose nutrients (and anyway boiling  most of these veggies produces a devilish odor, caused by the release of the sulfurous compounds they contain).

To me, the most interesting thing about Romanesco is the structure – it is an outstanding example of symmetry, harmony and mathematical precision in nature.  Each of the florets is made up of smaller identical florets, which in turn are made of of even smaller florets. It’s what could be called a fractal vegetable.

In mathematics, a fractal is defined as “a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole,” a property called `self-similarity’ (thanks Wikipedia!). Fractal patterns abound in nature – seashells, coastlines, leaf veins and lightning bolts. To see some stunning examples of fractal photography, click this link  http://webecoist.momtastic.com/2008/09/07/17-amazing-examples-of-fractals-in-nature/ (could you please  please do this after you finish reading this post? Those images make my amateur photography look very pathetic!)

So how did I cook this edible math lesson? Quite simple really – 4 easy steps.

ROMANESCO MATHEMATICA (prep time 5 mins, cooking time 8 mins)

* Romanesco (or broccoli or cauliflower)  – 1 large

* Garlic – 4 cloves, sliced

* Olive oil – 2 tsp

* Extra virgin olive oil (if you don’t have any, just substitute with regular olive oil) – 1 tbsp

* Lemon juice – 1 large

* Salt to taste

* Sugar – a pinch

Step 1 – Admire Romanesco in all it’s glory. Once you’re done, cut up into medium sized florets

Step 2 – Steam the florets for 3-4 mins until they are 50-70% cooked and bright green in color. How much you cook them depends on how crunchy/raw you like your vegetables – remember they will continue to cook even after they are off the heat!  I use my microwave steamer – something I cannot live without in my kitchen…but that is a story for another day.

All steamed up...

Step 3 – Heat olive oil in a non stick pan until medium hot. Add in the steaming hot Romanesco, garlic and salt. I add these all at once , along with 2 tbsps of the `steaming water’ so the garlic does not brown/burn but still gets cooked and lends it’s wonderful aroma and flavor to the dish). Combine all the ingredients well, cover and cook on low heat for about 3 mins.

Step 4 – Remove from heat, add lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil and sugar – serve hot! It works well as a side dish, a warm salad or even as part of a main course over pasta or rice. Today I also topped it with a spoon of my favourite seed mix – that’s what you see in the photo. You’ll hear more about this mix of mine at some point…so like I was saying, feel free to add some seeds to the dish as a final touch – sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, whatever’s handy.

So enjoy this dish, enjoy the beauty of nature, and remember your Math teacher fondly ; ) I’m off to listen to my vintage Tina Turner CDs at top volume (or at whatever volume the neighbours can tolerate).


9 responses »

  1. I did think of stern Mrs Singh…remember our math teacher! What a lovely vegetable…more like something that landed in a UFO:) never seen one here so thanks for the insight.

  2. I absolutely remember Mrs. (Ram & Shyam) Singh! She had a warm heart…under a really tough exterior! If you see Romanesco, buy it! Tastes milder than broccoli, stronger than cauliflower. And it’s a feast for the eyes.

  3. Tried it. Was gorgeous. We all felt that tasted a lot like Brocolli, but maybe a little milder, now that u mention it 🙂 I wonder – is the food value same as or different from Brocolli?

    • Glad you all enjoyed it! Adds variety to the menu. From what I know it would be pretty much as good as broccoli, nutrition-wise. Same family.

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