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Photo: Stocksy/Rowena Naylor
Photo: Stocksy/Rowena Naylor

Romanesco is like the French girl of the farmers’ market: It’s exotic, undeniably cool, and rather mysterious to all but the most in-the-know chefs. (Okay, so it’s actually an Italian vegetable—just play along.)

It’s also a fave of Nina Clemente, chef at downtown Los Angeles’ di Alba restaurant—the new, focaccia-focused little sister to beloved (and buzzy) cafe The Smile in New York City. “Romanesco is Roman broccoli,” she says. “I first encountered it as a child in the markets in Rome, and was ecstatic when I saw it in California farmers’ markets. ”

Like its cousins, broccoli and cauliflower, romanesco is rich in fiber, potassium, vitamin C, and iron—and it’s even been shown to have anti-cancer properties. It also looks really, really cool. “I’m obsessed with the Fibonacci spiral that the romanesco pattern follows,” says Clemente. (The Fibonacci spiral is a trippy, repeating mathematical motif found all over nature, FYI.)

But she also hearts the veggie because it doesn’t require a lot of work to taste sublime—in fact, she made it the star of one of di Alba’s most popular dishes. “I love this recipe because it reminds me of my childhood, as my mother often seasoned simply roasted vegetables with fresh herbs and olive oil,” she recalls.

Effortlessly elegant? It really must have a European pedigree.

Scroll down to get the recipe for chef Nina Clemente’s Cali Cauli romanesco salad, featured at The Smile’s di Alba restaurant.
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Photo: di Alba
Photo: di Alba

Cali Cauli with Mint Salsa Verde

Courtesy of chef Nina Clemente, The Smile’s di Alba

Yields 6 servings 

Ingredients
1 head romanesco
1 head purple cauliflower
1 head orange cauliflower
3 Tbsp, 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 Tbsp salt
1/2 cup chopped mint
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 Tbsp finely chopped capers
2 tsp green onion
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Zest from one lemon

1. Preheat oven to 450°F.

2. Remove romanesco and cauliflower cores and cut heads into bite-sized florets. Toss florets with three tablespoons of olive oil and half a tablespoon of salt. Spread in an even layer on two bakings sheets. Roast at 450ºF for seven minutes.

3. While cauliflower is roasting, place mint, parsley, capers, green onion, and one-third cup olive oil in a blender. Pulse quickly until just combined, as the heat from the blender blade will brown the sauce and give it a bitter flavor.

4. Once cauliflower is done, let cool for three to four minutes, then toss with the mint salsa verde, lemon juice, and zest. Season with salt to taste.

The Smile’s di Alba, 827 E. 3rd St., Los Angeles, CA, 90013, 213-620-6244, www.eatdialba.com

In other Instagram-friendly food news, have you tried a beet or blue algae latte yet? If not, you should get on that—as well as these other healthy food trends that are going to be big in 2017