Cauliflower is a very fashionable vegetable nowadays. You will see it on restaurant menus from San Francisco to New York to London, prepared in myriad ways from sliced thick and served as steak, to roasted, to grated and used instead of flour as a base for gluten-free pizza, and so on. But using it to make a sauce for pasta has not yet, as far as I know, been adopted by chefs even though it is a typical Sicilian way of using green cauliflower when in season. Some of you will already know that I am well on my way to becoming Sicilian, at least in as far as having a home there, and as a result, I am spending a fair amount of time on the island, staying on a beautiful organic farm belonging to my friend, Mary Taylor Simeti, who is also my guru for all things Sicilian — Mary is the author of the ultimate book on Sicilian food. So when I saw green cauliflower at the greengrocer, I decided to buy one before the season ends. Easter is the cut off time for cauliflower. Initially, I was going to make the pasta sauce myself. I had learned it from Mary but as she is just up the lane from my casetta, I thought why not have the master (or should I say mistress!) make it. And so it was. I carried my cauliflower to Mary’s house with my camera to snap her make the sauce while her gorgeous grandchildren sat mesmerized watching cartoons on the TV.
I am slowly moving towards another momentous step in my life with the possible purchase of a spectacular plot of land in Sicily where I will build my dream home. Well, perhaps not quite a dream house but certainly one with a separate laundry room and cinema room, and with gorgeous views whichever way I turn, although perhaps not as varied as those on Mary Taylor Simeti’s farm where I am spending more and more time getting used to life in Sicily. And one way of getting used to life in a new country is to cook the local food which I did recently, grilling stigghiole (baby lamb’s intestines) with Mary and Tonino, her lovely husband. I should really be frank here and admit to having done nothing apart from watching them do the grilling.
I am just back from Sicily where I intend to finish my days, that is if I find the right plot with gorgeous views that will not one day disappear if someone builds in front of me. Anyhow, the prospect of this happening is still some way off and until then, I have the ideal spot where I can live the life I eventually intend for myself, a delightful casetta with the most amazing views on Mary Taylor Simeti‘s organic farm — those who follow me on instagram will have recently seen my daily pictures of stunning sunrise and sunset. It was tenerumi season when I was there and as Mary was describing the pasta she makes with them, I asked her if she would make me some and her being the most wonderful friend, she agreed. We went into the fields to pick some. To be more accurate it was Mary who did the picking. I am hopeless at these things. Too urban I guess. Anyway, tenerumi are the green leaves of the Sicilian cucuzza, a kind of courgettes or a gourd or a squash depending on who translates it — I am almost certain it is the same as Lebanese qara’, which is also in season now and which we pick young and stuff like courgettes and aubergines and finish with a lemony ‘pesto’ made with garlic, dried mint and lemon juice. Mary picked the tenerumi young and tender with some having baby cucuzza attached to them to add a little more texture to the sauce. Here she is below picking what we need for the pasta then showing me her harvest.
As some of you know, I have written a whole book on Mediterranean street food and while researching it, I tasted almost all there is to taste on the streets of Spain, Italy, Morocco, Turkey and Egypt to name a few of the countries I covered. Most of what I tasted was great. Sometimes delicious and fun and sometimes more fun than delicious. But there were a few specialities I did not take to. In particular pani ca meusa, a greasy sicilian spleen sandwich. Nancy Harmon Jenkins who is one of the great writers on Mediterranean food and a friend couldn’t undrestand my repulsion but as much as I love spleen (my mother makes a divine braised version that I will blog one day that I am with her in Lebanon), I couldn’t see the point of this sandwich. Well, not until another great friend, Mary on whose farm we were staying, sent us to Porta Carbona where not only did I finally discover that a greasy spleen sandwich could be absolutely scrumptious but I was also able to convert Amy to it.