Broccoli for Mathematicians

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romanescoYour TakeHome box does many things. This week—drum roll please—it’s going to bring some order to the chaos of the universe. That’s right. Behold the Romanesco broccoli from Landisdale Farm in Jonestown, PA. Romanesco broccoli was first described in 16th century Italy, and is sometimes called Roman cauliflower or “broccoflower.” It is a member of the Brassica oleracea family of cabbage and kale, in the subcategory botrytis, which includes cauliflower, to which Romanesco is most closely related.

If you examine this gorgeous, unusual, chartreuse flower, you’ll see each spiral bud is composed of a series of smaller spiral buds, all arranged in series of more logarithmic spirals. Romanesco broccoli is nature’s edible version of a fractal. Famous Yale mathematician Benoí®t B. Mandelbrot (1924–2010) defined fractal geometry using computer graphics to find them in nature. Fractals abound in seashells, snowflakes, clouds, and even in our lungs. In human endeavors, they’re found in architecture, music, art, and even the stock market.

Fractals are important in the study of chaos theory. Perhaps for you, chaos describes getting your family out the door in the morning or the potential avalanche from an unorganized hall closet. Instead of organizing your closet, your work, or your life along traditional lines, be inspired by fractals and their beautiful self-organizing forms, like with Romanesco broccoli. As William Blake tells us:

To see the world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.

Romanesco has 1.90g protein, 2g fiber, and only 20 calories. Just like broccoli, it’s an excellent source of vitamin C (126mg), calcium (74mg), and carotenoids. So don’t just contemplate this beautiful, cosmic vegetable—eat it too!

Preparation: Treat your fractal as you would broccoli or cauliflower—rinse and break off the branch spirals, then roast, steam, sauté, or simmer until tender.

Storage: Store stem-down in the fridge; Romanesco keeps well for a few days.

 

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