A thing of beauty

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 March, 2011, 12:00am

A friend recently gave me a gift that she had hand-carried from Japan - a miniature romanesco broccoli (it's also known as romanesco cauliflower). She assumed it was a genetically modified vegetable - but it's natural. I can't imagine any scientist creating something this beautiful.

Romanesco seems to be in season. I received one in a variety box from Providence Family Farm, which grows organic vegetables in Jiangxi province and imports them to Hong Kong. When choosing romanesco, look for a firm 'head', with no soft spots or bruises.

Romanesco is so beautiful I wish there were a way to preserve it as a piece of art. It can be preserved - up to a point - in the fridge. You'll have to cut it up and the colour will fade. Turn the vegetable stem-side up on your cutting board and cut about 2cm into the stem. Use your hands to tear the vegetable in half, letting the head divide itself naturally. Cut a slit into the stem of each half and tear it again, so you have four quarters that are more or less of equal size. Continue to cut and tear the vegetable until you have fairly large chunks. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to the boil, add the romanesco pieces and blanch for about a minute. Drain the vegetable, rinse with cold water, then plunge the pieces into a bowl of ice water. When the romanesco is well chilled, drain off the water and ice cubes and pat the vegetable dry with paper towels. Put the pieces in sterilised canning jars.

Pour vinegar with an acid content of 5 per cent into a saucepan (don't use red vinegar, because combined with the green of the romanesco, it will make the pickle an unappealing colour). Add salt and sugar to taste (it should be tart but balanced), plus seasonings such as whole garlic cloves, sliced onion, a bay leaf, mustard seeds and black peppercorns. Bring to a simmer and stir to dissolve the salt and sugar, then pour the hot liquid over the romanesco pieces. Cover the jars with a clean dish towel and let the liquid cool completely before covering with the lid. Refrigerate and leave for several days before eating.