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.
First Mary divided the cauliflower into florets ,peeling the bottom stalks so that they would mash easily. Then she chopped a medium onion before she set about preparing the rest of the ingredients. She got a good handful of local pine nuts.
Then she put very small local raisins (also a handful) to soak adding saffron to the water. The raisins were also local but not the saffron which I had brought Mary, tied in an extravagant bunch, from Doha, Qatar.
She then put the cauliflower florets to boil and let them boil until they were very soft.
She put the chopped onion and a little olive oil in a pan and set the pan over a medium heat, and added the pine nuts halfway through. Once the nuts were lightly coloured she added the anchovies and set the pan over the boiling cauliflower so that the anchovies could melt without burning. She scooped the cauliflower out of the water (which she was going to use to boil the pasta; Sicilans are very careful not to waste any water.
And mashed the cauliflower before adding the raisins and their saffron flavoured soaking water
She then boiled the pasta (one 500 g pack) in the same water she used to boil the cauliflower and once the pasta was done, she added it to the cauliflower.
And mixed it well with the sauce.
Et voila, a very unusual pasta with a green cauliflower sauce. The final touch was adding toasted breadcrumbs to the pasta. Sicilians love breadcrumbs or mollica as they call it and they add it to almost everything
While we were eating our pasta, I was eyeing the bunch of herbs Mary had put in a glass to grow roots for her to eventually plant in her garden wondering when the time will come for me to ask her for some cuttings to plant in my garden!