I vividly remember the first time I saw a romanesco. I was working at my first job in the UK, and our office manager had an organic vegetable box delivered to the office on a biweekly basis. Usually it was filled with the bog standard UK produce, like potatoes, onions, mushrooms and all manner of root vegetables. But one day, she pulls out this romanesco and says “wow, take a look at this guys!” I instantly thought of mathematical fractals like those on the cover of the Soup Dragon’s Lovegod album. I bought that cassette in middle school and it was my favourite for over a year. Man, that ages me, huh?
Anyhow, so I have since seen this spiralling brassica in grocery stores, but for some crazy reason I have never bought one until now. Goodness, what a mistake! Romanesco is gorgeous, both visually and on the palate. If only my picky eight year old would eat vegetables, romanesco could be a standard dinner dish. I suppose I could blend it up into a soup and he’d never be the wiser! But looking at it while eating is not an insignificant part of the enjoyment. Oh well, perhaps in 10 years he’ll eat veggies! In the meantime, I’ll have to buy it again and take some arty close up photos (but before it’s been sitting in the fridge for a week, getting browned corners!) to put up in the kitchen. It’s just so amazingly lovely to look at!
Unbeknownst to me, I purchased a rather “sought after” vegetable today. I had gone into my local produce store (gotta love Italian produce!) to buy some red grapefruit and tomatoes. But then I saw this grassy looking plant in the refrigerated section. The grocer saw my perplexed stare and told me that it was agretti, and that I should try it. He told me to cut off the reddish stems and roots so that only the green bits are left, to wash it really well, and to throw it into boiling water with a bit of oil, salt and lemon juice for 4-5 minutes. Easy peasy right? So I added that to my bill. It was only €1.81 for a fistful bunch. I didn’t think anything of it until I started making dinner and thought I should google it to see what folks make with it and what exactly it is. It appears to have made quite a big splash in the UK recently, due to an appearance on MasterChef and in Jamie Oliver’s restaurant. The media has been taunting readers about not trying it sooner. British chefs are apparently fighting over it, and agretti seeds have flown off the shelves and are only on sale in the UK for next year!
Like I said, I didn’t know anything about agretti when I bought it. I had to have the grocer write down the name for me because I was sure to forget it by the time I walked home. But now I feel like a hipster who ought to have an iphone, ear much smarter glasses, and perhaps drive a vespa or prius. OK, so I really don’t feel like that and am perfectly happy with my old non-fruit phone and way out-of-fashion glasses! But I do laugh at the idea that my rather inexpensive dinner ingredient is some posh foodie menu item. In a few years agretti be passée, and I’ll like it all the same.
OK, enough waxing on about the pretension of the food… How did the bloody stuff taste?? It didn’t have a strong taste. “Un gusto delicato” the grocer had told me, and he was right, like he always is about fruit and veg. I felt it had a flavour reminiscent of a salty celery, but without any of the horrible strings that celery has. Personally, I’m not a big fan of celery, and I really really dislike the texture of their strings. So agretti is a great celery alternative for me. But I suppose the texture isn’t quite as robust to use as a celery substitute, even if you could get your hands on it easily. It was nice though, and I’ll for sure buy and make it again if for nothing else than the ease and speed to prepare and cook it. My husband was rather more impressed than me (even before I told him that it was in hot demand in the UK) and lapped up nearly the entire pot in no time. Not bad for €1.81! How much does Jamie Oliver charge for this stuff in his restaurant????