Sicilian-style cauliflower pasta

The humble cauliflower is a brassica that has risen to become a star ingredient with chefs and a main feature of many recipes.

Previous to this resurgence in popularity, the vegetable had been perhaps under-appreciated with a reputation for being old fashioned and some people just weren’t sure what to do with it, aside from the classic cauliflower cheese. Which in itself is pretty great, as Nigel Slater comments in his book Tender volume 1, ‘If any vegetable was made to sit under a blanket of smooth cheese sauce, then this is it.’

It is a versatile ingredient which you can do a lot with from marinating it in Indian spices and roasting it whole, pan-frying it for salads or trying some of Ottolenghi’s innovative recipes. Ones featured in his Guardian article series include a cauliflower and pistachio salad and cauliflower cake.

Alternatively, you can make cauliflower rice if you are keen to cut carbs or, if you want to appreciate the natural beauty and shape of the cauliflower, slice it into steaks and cook it on a barbecue (or griddle) with spices like za’atar.

Cauliflower can take strong flavours and partners well with garlic, olives, capers and anchovies, or try it with a smoky romesco sauce or warm lemon tahini dressing. According to the Flavour Thesaurus it even pairs well with chocolate as tried by Heston Blumenthal in a risotto recipe.

If you want to mix things up, why not try using the quirky-looking romanesco which has pointed green florets and a flavour which is a cross between broccoli and cauliflower.

This year due to the prolonged heatwave the yield of cauliflowers has been impacted and the ones you see might be smaller in size than normal.  All of the sunshine made me want to cook Mediterranean food and here’s my version of a Giorgio Locatelli’s recipe for reginette ricce con ricotta e cavolfiore fritto (pasta with ricotta and sautéed cauliflower). You can get your fill of Sicilian recipes from his Made in Sicily cookbook.

Sicilian-style cauliflower pasta (serves 2)

150g pasta (of your choice)
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ head of cauliflower, broken into even-sized florets
1/2 fresh chilli, finely chopped
6 olives, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon raisins
A pinch of saffron
1 teaspoon of capers, roughly chopped
Zest of half a lemon, 1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon toasted almonds (a cheaper alternative to pine nuts)
A handful of spinach
1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon ricotta, roughly crumbled
Salt and pepper

Method

Par-boil the cauliflower for 3-4 minutes in a pan of boiling water, drain and leave to cool.

Heat a pan of salted water until it reaches a rolling boil and cook the pasta according to the packet instructions, go for al dente. Drain.

Place raisins and saffron in a bowl of (25ml) boiling water, the raisins will plump up and the saffron will infuse in the water.

raisins and saffron

Add the olive oil to a medium-hot frying pan and add the cauliflower, chilli, capers. Sauté for 5-8 minutes, stir occasionally to avoid any of the ingredients catching.  Add the garlic, saffron and raisins (including the water) and cook for a further couple of minutes. Stir well.

Add a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water for seasoning to the cauliflower mix. Then add the spinach and pasta, combine all the ingredients well and cook until  the pasta is heated through. Then at the end squeeze over the lemon juice, scatter over the almonds, parsley, lemon zest and the ricotta. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve immediately, adding an extra drizzle of olive oil too if you are feeling decadent.

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