Some people say they love rock ‘n roll – but I say, I love olive oil! I think most Italians do and have had a kind of romance with olive oil that dates back centuries. We always seem to have this glistening golden liquid in our kitchens. It’s usually the first thing I grab when I begin to prepare a meal for my family. I love the way it tastes and the way it enhances the flavors of other foods. I love the scent – it has a fruity, earthy aroma. I love the color – so rich and golden and the extra-virgin type, deep green, like the olives it is made from. And of course, it is so healthy for you.
I can remember when I was growing up, my grandmother, Carmela, always kept a huge can of olive oil in her kitchen next to her stove, always ready to use. And use she did – on and in everything she made. She was born in Palermo, Sicily, where olive trees flourish abundantly from the Mediterranean climate and rich soil. She was a great cook and would make delicious dishes using simple ingredients.
One of the recipes my grandmother handed down to my mother was a dish called Pasta with Cauliflower or as she would say in Italian – Pasta chi Vrocculi Arriminati (“arriminata” literally meaning – mixed). This dish was a favorite of mine growing up and still is. My mother didn’t make it too often, but when she did, it was a special treat. What I love most about this dish is the many different flavors to enjoy at one time, a true feast for the tongue – the sweetness of the raisins and onions, the saltiness of the anchovies, the nuttiness of the pignoli, the creamy texture of the cauliflower, and the rich flavors of saffron and olive oil.
Throughout history Sicily was greatly influenced by various cultures because of its many conquerors. There were the Greeks, the Romans, the Normans, the Bourbons, the Arabs, the Spanish, etc. It is, without a doubt that the Arab influence on Sicilian cooking is the most profound and has endured till today. The influence and blending of all these cultures, I believe, is what has contributed to the many dishes we’ve come to know as Sicilian cooking. This particular recipe is a perfect example of the Arab influence. The list of ingredients says it all – pasta, cauliflower, onions, anchovies, pignoli nuts, raisins, saffron, and olive oil. It sounds almost exotic… and the color of this dish when it is done is a feast for the eyes too – it’s truly golden!!
Recently, when I was cleaning out a drawer, I came across a handwritten version of this recipe that my mother jotted down for me when I had asked her for it many years ago. I love it because it’s in her handwriting and I will always cherish it.
An important note – the mixing is the most important part in the preparation of this dish – must be slow and steady. Recipe below!
1 lb. of Bucatini or Perciatelli style Pasta – cooked al dente and drained
1 Head of cauliflower – cut up into florets (discard stems)
1 large onion chopped
½ cup Olive Oil
4 to 6 anchovies
Handful of Pignoli Nuts (pine nuts)
Handful of raisins
1 pkg. of Saffron dissolved in 1 ladle of pasta water
(toasted breadcrumbs – for topping – if you like)
Boil water for pasta – l box of Bucatini or Perciatelli pasta –
Boil cauliflower until soft enough to mash. Drain and Mash and set aside
In a large saucepan saute 1 large chopped onion in olive oil
Add anchovies (4 to 6 filets) and melt them by mashing them with a spoon into the olive oil
Keep stirring anchovies and onions until anchovies are dissolved. (Do not add salt)
Add the mashed cauliflower to the saucepan
Mix well with the onions, oil and anchovies
Keep mashing with your spoon and mixing slowly until soft – about 15-20 minutes on med. low flame
Add ½ cup (or more if needed) of pasta water slowly as you mash and stir mixture
Mix 1 pkg. of saffron with 1 ladle full of hot water and slowly add to cauliflower mixture
Continue to cook and mix 5 minutes or so
Add raisins and pignoli nuts
On a low flame continue to cook until raisins are soft
If needed, add a little hot water to make the mixture creamy if too thick and cook about 10 minutes more on a low flame.
The cauliflower sauce should be thick and creamy consistency.
Put cauliflower mixture over cooked and drained Bucatini pasta, top with toasted breadcrumbs, if desired. Enjoy!