Pasta With Cauliflower

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Pasta Con Cavolfiore

Cauliflower Pasta 51a

Buon giorno!

This is the time of year when health is on our minds regarding food preparation  – and “deliciousness” is an added benefit. PASTA WITH CAULIFLOWER  or PASTA CON CAVOLFIORE is one dish that more than fills the bill. This is a very tasty dish which pretends to be very rich while really sneaking all kinds of “good for you things” onto the plate.

PASTA CON CAVOLFIORE is a Southern Italian peasant recipe. (Here come those peasants again – taking credit for so many of the great Italian dishes we love!) It is found in both Napoletana cooking as well as Sicilian fare. Cavolfiore actually means “cabbage flower”. Did you know that cauliflower was a form of cabbage? Some things just “is”!!

A little history: In the early days of Sicily, it seemed as if, at one time or another, every dominant culture conquered the land and left its mark. In particular, the Moorish influence, affecting all aspects of Sicilian life, can still be found in the cuisine of the area. The Arabs brought pasta and the use of nuts and fruits in cooking.  They also motivated the raising of sheep and goats – leading to a common use of sheep and goat cheeses. Vegetables were cultivated and prepared simply with oil and garlic. You will see bits and pieces of the Moorish effect in PASTA WITH CAULIFLOWER with the ingredients: currants, pignoli nuts, and saffron which gives this dish a golden color.

About the saffron: Saffron is lovely stuff found in most spice departments at your grocer. It comes from the saffron crocus and can be very expensive in large amounts. However, it is most often packaged in tiny amounts for our use. Only a small amount is called for in most dishes. It is usually sold in threads that are bright brick red in color.

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When you crush them between your fingers and drop them into hot liquid, they emit a beautiful gold color to the liquid. They don’t dissolve completely. You can then add the liquid along with the remaining bits of saffron to your dish which immediately takes on the golden hue. Thank you, Moors, for bringing this beautiful spice to Italy where Italian cooks have used it in so many of their dishes including risottos over the centuries!

Then there are those little fish…

About the hairy little fish: Anchovies are called for in this dish. Now work with me here. When many people hear anchovies, they start to break out in hives.  Some things sound unappetizing, but without them, your dish can be lackluster. This is one of those things. For those who might not know, anchovies come in little cans near the canned tuna at your grocer, and are usually packed in olive oil. They are used right from the can – no fuss – no muss. You can leave them out, if you like, but you’ll be losing a subtle flavor that makes this pasta dish SING! The neat part of this for all of the squeamish among you is that the anchovies in this dish dissolve miraculously while cooking. You really never see them again, and you’re left wondering where that beautiful flavor is coming from. Learn to love anchovies! You heard it here. Adding them to your dishes, rocks them into another flavor dimension.

Repeat and chant with me: AN-CHO-VEES   AN-CHO-VEES. Your new mantra. You’ll thank me.

This time while shopping for my cauliflower, I noticed some really beautiful green and also purple ones in the markets. I decided to use the green just for fun. Don’t hesitate to do this. These gorgeous colorful cauliflowers are delicious and add more interest to your dish.

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(Pasta Con Cavolfiore)

Serves: 4

Prep: 15 min.



1 lb. Perciatelli or Bucatini Pasta (Spaghetti is fine also) cooked according to directions – reserve a couple of large spoons pasta water (about 1/4 cup)

1 Large Head of Cauliflower (can be white or the colorful varieties)

Oil for roasting

Salt and pepper for roasting

1/4 c. Olive Oil

1 onion – chopped

3 cloves fresh garlic – chopped finely

5 Anchovies – packed in oil and rinsed

1/4 tsp. hot pepper flakes

1/4 c. currants or raisins (This is the authentic ingredient, but sometimes I like to substitute black olives for a change – delicious!)

1/4 c. toasted pine nuts (pignolis)

1 tsp. Saffron threads (from the spice area at your grocer) – this gives the dish its golden color

1 1/2 c. fresh breadcrumbs mixed with 3 Tbsp olive oil – toasted and browned under the broiler

Grated Pecorino Cheese and a little Goat Cheese (As always, the finest in the Atlanta area is found at CalyRoad Creamery!)

Handful of fresh flat leaf parsley for garnish.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil for drizzling

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Prepare pasta and reserve a couple of large spoons of pasta water for dissolving the saffron.

Cut cauliflower in pieces. Toss with a little olive oil and season with salt & pepper. Roast in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes til golden and tender.

In the 1/4 c. olive oil, cook the chopped onion until just tender – about 5 minutes.

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Add the garlic and the anchovies. Mash the anchovies with a fork. Cook a couple of minutes. The anchovies will dissolve.

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Add the roasted cauliflower and the hot pepper flakes. Cook a couple of minutes more, stirring well.

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Add the currants or raisins and pine nuts – stir.

Stir the saffron into the hot reserved pasta water and stir. Let them sit a few minutes. The saffron threads don’t completely disappear. They just emit a golden color to the liquid and to your dish. Add this liquid along with the remaining threads to the pan.

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Cook about 5 more minutes – stir. If dry, add a little olive oil.

Pour over cooked pasta and toss well. Top with toasted breadcrumbs and parsley. Crumble some goat cheese on the top.

Drizzle with some Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Serve with plenty of Pecorino Cheese.

For pairing with PASTA WITH CAULIFLOWER I like a Soave or even a Chardonnay. Enjoy this beautiful golden dish!


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Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography

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  1. I just love all the flavours here. It breakfast time where I am (Australia) , but I could easily eat this right now.