Sunday, December 4, 2011

Fractal Broccoli for Miss Lima

Miss Lima taught 10th grade geometry. At least I think it was 10th grade and I think it was geometry, but to be honest, high school memories are starting to get a little hazy. I can't even remember the names of all my teachers anymore. It's strange to think I used to have my entire week's schedule memorized to the minute. In any case, I do remember vague bits of a field trip Miss Lima organized. We went to a day-long fractal conference. A day. Of fractals. It was either at BU or MIT, and my dad was one of the chaperones.

Fractals are complex shapes made up of self-similar parts, which in turn are also made up of self-similar parts, and so on, theoretically to infinitely small self-similar parts. The Koch snowflake is a common visualization. Fractals occur in nature, but not quite as neatly as the theory dictates, of course. 'Infinitely small' is hardly possible in practical application. A few natural examples: ferns, lightning, blood vessel systems...and Romanesco broccoli (also called Romanesco cauliflower), a member of the broccoli and cauliflower species Brassica oleracea.

Two years ago, I learned that Miss Lima, who had since married and had three children, had died of breast cancer at only 39 years old. This post is dedicated to her. I'm still amazed that she was able to get a whole class full of high schoolers excited about a math field trip. I've hardly encountered fractals in an academic setting since then, but the memory has stayed with me.

I first stumbled across Romanesco broccoli somewhere on the Internet last year, probably in a blog post, and I was intrigued by its approximate fractal beauty. I scoured the farmers markets, but it seemed that I had missed the season. Finally, this weekend, I spotted it at the Somerville Winter Farmers Market. I can't remember the name of the farm - too excited about the find to notice, I guess - but they recommended roasting it with some goat cheese and balsamic vinegar. (They also recounted the story of a passerby who commented that looking at Romanesco broccoli was probably much like what you'd see on acid.)

We stopped by the Foxboro Cheese Co. stand to investigate whether they had goat cheese. They didn't, but we ended up with asiago (my favorite cheese) and a lemon honey fromage blanc, which seemed like a perfect accompaniment to the broccoli (instead of goat cheese). Yes, it was perfect.

Lightly season the broccoli with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast it at 425 for about 15 minutes. Remove it from the oven and add cheese (fromage blanc, goat, or your choice) and balsamic. We used a store-bought balsamic glaze rather than straight balsamic vinegar. Put it back in the oven for another three or four minutes, and then broil for a minute or two. Voila: cheesy roasted Romanesco broccoli with balsamic glaze. The flavor was a perfect mix of broccoli and cauliflower, fairly mild. Delicious, beautiful, and fleeting.

And then it was gone.
Even nature's not infinite, but it does a good job of convincing us otherwise.

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