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Grow to eat: the Italian designer cauliflower

Romanesco Broccoli 'Celio'
Romanesco Broccoli 'Celio' Credit: gapphotos.com

Is it a cauliflower? Is it a broccoli? While seed suppliers call romanesco one or the other, it is in fact neither. It is best thought of as a stand-alone member of the brassica tribe, with a unique flavour all its own. I’ve always grown romanesco on my allotment, attracted to its crystalline, chartreuse, geometrical structure.

Bred in Italy hundreds of years ago, I grow modern cultivars for their uniformity, such as ‘Navona F1’ from simplyseed.co.uk and ‘Celio’ from marshalls-seeds.co.uk. Start sowing now, one batch this weekend and another later in the month for a succession, sowing half an inch (12mm) deep, either in drills in a well-prepared seedbed or in 3in (7cm) pots of compost outside.

Thin seedlings to one per pot or one every 6in (15cm) if in the ground. At six to eight leaves they’ll be ready to plant in final positions with a spacing of 18in (45cm) apart and 24in (60cm) between rows.

Romanesco, like other brassicas, love nutrient-rich soil in a bed prepared with a good 3in (8cm) mulch of fresh compost. At the point of planting be sure to sink seedlings about half an inch (12mm) deeper to support their stems and mound up slightly as they grow.

Keep well watered until established; last year I lost almost all of the brassica seedlings I’d raised because I planted at the moment the drought hit and I couldn’t keep up with the watering. Protect from destructive birds and cabbage white butterflies using insect netting and use seaweed fertiliser weekly.

My allotment isn’t only filled with unusual crops. Primarily I grow new potatoes, carrots, beans and apples. 
With such choice available to us gardeners, however, our plates can be rich with variety, and what better than roasted romanesco florets drizzled in olive oil, 
with a squeeze of lemon?

Find Jack’s blog at jackwallington.com. Follow him on Twitter @jackwallington; Instagram @jackwallingtongardendesign