Friday, March 3, 2017

RECIPES: Pasta con Cavolfiore, Sultane, Mandorle, e Molliche

The Italians know a thing or two about parsimonious cooking, about making something incredibly delicious and soul-satisfying out of something lowbrow or unexciting. And the further south you go along the Italian peninsula, the stronger that capacity grows. Sicilian cuisine is the shining example of this modo di cucinare.

A delicious Sicilian pasta dish that highlights the culinary transition from everyday-to-divine is one using a "lowly" cruciferous vegetable, often overlooked because of its pale color, and considered (mistakenly) to lack nutritional content: cauliflower. Cauliflower itself is actually very nutritious, as are all cruciferous veggies (like broccoli and cabbage) -- it's full of Vitamin C, Vitamin K, folate, and a slew of antioxidants and anti-carcinogens that make weekly consumption of the vegetable a real boon to anyone's diet. And with a preparation as delicious as this one, it can become a fabulous staple in a nutritious meal plan. As for its use in this dish, it's enhanced by the agrodolce (sweet-sour) combination of the dried sultanas and toasted almonds -- classic Sicilian. And because even grated cheese is a luxury many in the poorer areas of Sicily can't afford, herbed toasted bread crumbs are used in place of cheese. If you need the dish to be wholly vegetarian, you can leave out the anchovy.

Please note: this dish can be prepared without the pasta, served as a side dish to round out a meal. Tossing it with pasta just makes for a satisfying lunch or delicious dinner, and one that's quite wallet-friendly as well. It's perfect for everything from a meatless Monday meal to a dinner party dish. Buon Appetito!

(Serves 3-4)

1/2 to 3/4 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
400 grams pasta (4/5 pound)
1/2 cup olive oil -- good quality Sicilian extra virgin is best 
3 cloves garlic
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced into half moons 
1/4 white wine
1/3 cup dried sultanas or raisins
1/2 cup slivered toasted almonds
2 TBSP. capers
1 anchovy fillet chopped, or 1/2 tsp anchovy paste 
pinch of dried peperoncino flakes
1/2 cup herbed toasted bread crumbs
1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
salt & pepper to taste

- Start by par-cooking the cauliflower in a large pot of boiling water, salted well. Keep the water to cook the pasta in, and remove the cauliflower from the boiling water once cooked until softened, about 5 minutes. Drain in a colander or bowl.

- In a large saute' pan, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil with the whole garlic cloves. After 1 minute of heating up, add the anchovy, onion, and peperoncino and cook until the onion turns translucent, about 3 minutes.

- Add the cauliflower to the saute' pan and the white wine, and cook until the wine has burned off a bit, about a minute. Then cook, covered, for about 5-7 minutes, until the caulifower has softened and begins to break down a bit.

- Toss the pasta into the boiling, salted cauliflower water and cook until just barely al dente.

- While the pasta is cooking, add the sultanas and capers to the cauliflower and cook to brown the cauliflower a bit. Add olive oil as needed. Add salt and pepper to taste.

- When the pasta is just shy of al dente, remove from the cooking water and transfer t o the saute pan with the cauliflower. Add the slivered almonds and the parsley, and toss to coat. Cook for an additional 2 minutes in the pan and at the very end, toss the rest of the olive oil and half of the breadcrumbs in with the pasta, toss to coat.

- Serve the pasta in pasta plates and sprinkle with the toasted bread crumbs. Enjoy!

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