Thursday, December 21, 2006

Romanesco: a fractal vegetable

Say what? A what vegetable? A fractal?!?

OK, I have just the barest grasp on the concept of fractals, but here goes: A fractal (a term coined in 1975 by Polish-French mathematician BenoƮt Mandelbrot--whose last name means almond bread, by the way) is a fragmented geometric shape whose individual fragments contain mini versions of the larger shape. Phew.

This idea can actually be better understood if you look at a romanesco cauliflower. This green-tinted member of the cauliflower family is made up of lots of conical "florets," which are in turn made up of identical, but much tinier conical shapes. So when you buy it, you can first admire its incredible natural geometry, and then you can cook it and eat it. It will do fine in any recipe that calls for regular cauliflower (it tastes the same).

Romanesco cauliflower is available pretty much year round. Your best bet is to look in local greenmarkets (it doesn't have much of a presence in supermarkets at the moment) or contact the folks at to find out how to buy it from them. Or if you have a home garden and want to plant romanescos next spring, check out

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