Sicily’s cuisine is vastly different from the rest of Italy and heavily influenced by its Mediterranean neighbors. The classic sweet and sour flavor palette, along with exotic ingredients such as saffron, all came from North Africa and the Middle East. In fact, hard durum wheat and rice both came to Italy via Sicily and saffron dates back three millennia.
This classic Sicilian dish is common to the city of Palermo, where cauliflower is called broccoli. You’ll find the combination of pine nuts and raisins over and over again in Sicilian food. Add capers and you have another classic combination.
Serve this pasta for a perfect lunch starter. This recipe will serve 8 people as a first course.
Ingredients and Direction:
- 1 large head of cauliflower, broken into large florets
- 1 pinch of saffron, about 1/8 teaspoon
- 1 splash of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
- A pinch of red pepper flakes
- 6 or so oil-packed anchovy fillets
- 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts (see note)
- 1/3 cup dried golden raisins or currents, soaked in hot water for 5 minutes
- 1 pound of short pasta that will cup the sauce, i.e., casarecci, gemelli, penne or bucatini broken into small pieces
- Grated pecorino cheese
- Salt and pepper
- A large pot for cooking the cauliflower and pasta
- A large saute pan
- A strainer
Note: To post pine nuts, simple put them in a dry saute pan over medium heat and toss constantly for 5 minutes. Keep a close eye on them as they can burn in seconds. Remove them immediately to a bowl to cool since they would continue to toast in the hot pan.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the cauliflower florets and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the cauliflower with a spider or other stainer and drain. Reserve the cauliflower cooking water in the pot for cooking the pasta.
- Into a water glass or measuring cup, add about a cup of the hot cauliflower cooking liquid and add the saffron by crushing it between your fingers over the water. Stir with a spoon and let steep for about 5 minutes.
- Heat the saute pan over medium heat and add the olive oil and red pepper flakes. When the oil is hot and the pepper flakes are sizzling, add the onions. Cook the onions until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the anchovies and stir and smash them with a wooden spoon until they dissolve into the olive oil and onions mixture.
- Add the toasted pine nuts, drained raisins and saffron with water to the saute pan. Bring the mixture to a simmer and add the cooked cauliflower florets.
- Cook the cauliflower mixture and break up the cauliflower with a wooden spoon until they are small bite-sized pieces. Add more cauliflower water to keep the mixture a little watery. Add salt and pepper to the mixture to taste.
- Bring the remaining cauliflower cooking water to a boil, adding more water to make a full boiling pot. Add the pasta and cook to 1 minutes short of the package directions.
- When the pasta is done, drain but reserve the cooking water. Add the pasta to the cauliflower mixture and mix together to combine. Gently stir the pasta mixture for about 1 minute until the pasta is cooked but still al dente (firm to the bite). Add more pasta cooking water if needed to keep the mixture slightly watery.
- Serve in warmed bowls and top with freshly ground pepper and grated pecorino cheese.