romanesco cauliflower pasta (broccoletti romani)

People often say "One thing leads to another...". bob and ani went to dinner at the Roman home of long time friends emanuela and domenico and were served this spaghetti with some kind of strange Roman broccoli called broccoletti or something. A very simple dish, veggie boiled with the pasta, a little butter and parmigiano and pasta water to finish it off after draining. It was memorable. More memorable for ani who remembered vaguely how to reproduce it from emanuela's explanation. We tried it with regular broccoli when we returned stateside, but it just wasn't the same. Like so many things that don't translate well from one cuisine to another when the right ingredient is not available.

Over a year later an email arrives from the local Upper Merion Farmers Market talking up their last market of the season, the Saturday before Thankgiving 2010, and there was a teaser blurb about the funny looking veggie that bob never recalled having actually seen at emanuela's, but the name Romanesco cauliflower coupled with the green color made the light bulb go off (figure of speech). We were interested in the Farmer's Market that fall because of this terrific farm grain bread we discovered there made by a young baker Eric Saxman and to which we had became addicted, so we tried to return to this Saturday only market every week that we were not out of town. bob forwards the email illustration to emanuela for confirmation and she replies in the affirmative. What would life be like without the internet? We pick up one of these wierd fractal surface cauliflowers (and two loaves of the bread for freezing) and put the recipe on the soon to do list.

The night before Thanksgiving we did it. And loved it. Thanks, emanuela. And Dwain from Livengood Family Farm. And Upper Merion Farmers Market. And the internet.


1/2 lb linguini or spaghetti (we used linguini the first year) or orecchiette (the second year) or mezzi rigatoni or ... Garganelli all'uovo no 298?
1 full sized head of Romanesco cauliflower, florets separated and removed from the hard core interior
salt to taste
1/2 c reserved pasta water
3 T butter
1/2 c or more of parmigiano
optional: 1/4 c pesto sauce
freshly ground pepper to taste


  1. Carefully excavate the hard core interior of the head of the Romanesco with a sturdy sharp knife. Tediously remove each of the florets from the base, cutting away the hard stems as you go. When finished rinse them in the pasta pot and drain into a colander.
  2. Start the pasta water boiling and throw in the usual amount of salt if you have some idea from previous experience.
  3. Dump in the Romanesco and pasta and boil until the pasta is al dente (about 13 minutes, test it).
  4. Drain the stuff but save a cup of pasta water, returning the stuff to the pot on the stove at low heat.
  5. Cut up the butter into the hot stuff, and mix around to melt the butter (aided by the low burner heat). Grate some pepper into the mix and toss in the grated cheese and enough of the pasta water to sort of make a creamy (i.e., at least not dry) sauce. Use your judgment here. An option is to add in some pesto sauce at this point, but not too much. Remove from the burner when you get the right consistency. Check for salt.
  6. Serve with additional cheese and pepper grated directly onto the serving.


  1. Double the recipe for a pound or half kilo of pasta to feed 5 or 6 hungry people. Orecchiette actually seem better suited to holding onto the sauce and since we like to experiment, ani tossed in 3 heaping teaspoons of pesto sauce reminiscent of our foglie di olive con zucchini dish to give it a little extra kick.
  2. Roman broccoli = Romanesco cauliflower = broccoflower = broccoletti romani: a google gallery of images. Very mathematical: a fractal-like surface: used as an example of fractals in nature [fractal food]. If bob had only known earlier! The internet is full of pasta recipes with this veggie. Apparently broccoli and broccoletti are the same in Italian.
  3. Another Roman encounter with broccoletti romani and what sounds like a terrific alternative pasta recipe by blogger ciao chow linda. In fact many expat Italian bloggers have discovered this: Rachel Eats (in Rome), Ms. Adventures in Italy (also Rome, then Milan),  and Italians: madonna del piatto (Umbria), Serious Eats -- Seriously Italian?.
  4. Our first complete limoncello cheesecake was baked last century on Ponza in emanuela's toaster oven in honor of domenico's 39th birthday.
  5. Upper Merion Farmer's Market [Livengood Family Farm sold us the veggie, across from Saxman Breads] but apparently this veggie is only in season in the fall. We will have to wait patiently for next year. [Nope, we scored some again from Dwain in early December in the scaled down winter market!] [Eric Saxman left us, cutting us off from his delicious farm grain loaves of bread!]
  6. This veggie is only available in the late fall here in the US it seems but only in local farmer's markets. On our second year execution the local production was stunted, too much water perhaps from all the excess rain in the northeast US that season, so the heads were smaller the only time we found them, at the last Farmer's Market of the season, and we had to use 2 smaller heads for the 2 of us the weekend before Thanksgiving. Dwain had a couple unbuyable dwarfs on display, but Northstar Orchards had 5 medium heads and we bought them all. For two nights of pasta for two.
  7. 2012 update. A few years passed. Now we have a Wegman's Supermarket within 10 minutes drive, and after a few seasons with little success finding Romanesco at the farm markets, we found it there, really nice big ones, which were classified as broccoli romanesco in the store databank. From the pastas on hand that we could imagine working with this recipe, we picked this Delverde Garnganelli all'uovo No 298 that we had received free by parcel post in a nice little bundle of goodies kindly sent to us by Meagan from Delverde after she caught our enthusiasm for the zucchini pesto pasta that we reformulated and posted on their Facebook website. This pasta shape looks exactly like little cannoli shells, little rustic wrapped tubes diagonally cut in opposing directions at each end. The box only had 8.8 oz (250g) but we decided to use the entire large Romanesco. And we combined a few spoons of pesto sauce with the simple butter and parmigiano sauce in honor of the zucchini pesto pasta that had delivered the goods, to kick it up a notch. Worth repeating. And experimenting with other pasta shapes, like the zucchini pesto pasta itself.
  8. 2017 update. We have slid into using Wegman's mezzi rigatoni for most of our pasta dishes, including this one. The half length facilitates a better sauce meld since it can much more easily enter the shorter tube. Unfortunately there is no local supply of whole wheat mezzi rigatoni to conform to our better carb wishes. Wegman's calls them Italian Classics No 20 Mini Rigatoni.
    Optional upgrade: Saute some pressed garlic and red pepper flakes (don't overdo it!) in olive oil in a big nonstick chef's pan and combine the pasta, pesto, Romanesco, butter, cheese and pasta water in this pan for an extra kick in flavor.
  9. 2023 update.
    Same old same old. Need to shake things up once in a while. Ani brought home a small container of high end ricotta (0.85lb) and we had a nice romanesco in the fridge waiting. So she nosed around the internet a bit and decided to add lemon zest and some fresh squeezed lemon juice to the ricotta and pasta water. After cooking the pasta with the Romanesco. Mezzi rigatoni of course. Really delicious!
  10. Illustrations available.
pastabroccolettiromani.htm: 15-sep2023 [what, ME cook? © 1984 dr bob enterprises]