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.
Yesterday I was taken to buy saffron by my wonderful friend, Maryam Abdallah, Qatar’s first TV chef and a wonderful cook and educator. On the way, she gave me a wonderful tip on how to make sure I am buying real saffron which I thought I would pass on. Now, you probably don’t need to know this if you are buying saffron pre-packed by the gram but you better know it if you are going to buy saffron in industrial quantities the way they do in the souk. It’s very simple. All you need to do is ask the vendor for 3 or 4 threads of saffron which you put on your tongue and suck on for a few seconds. You then spit the threads out onto a clean tissue and rub them inside the tissue. If they colour it yellow, you know you are buying real saffron. If they colour it red, you are being sold coloured threads that have nothing to do with saffron. I wish my friend who recently brought me tons of saffron from Morocco knew this because he would have avoided buying a whole lot of fake saffron with only a few real threads in between for the smell! The top picture is of how they sell saffron here in Qatar, bunched up in ‘bouquets’ of 10 grams and below is a picture of my test to make sure I was not being sold fake saffron!
I have been neglecting the blog recently. Too many things happening and too many deadlines but today I decided to prepare for you one of my favourite dips, the Iranian answer to baba ghannuge where grilled aubergines are mixed with caramelised onions and garlic and instead of tahini, kashk or dried buttermilk that provides both creaminess and tartness. A very interesting ingredients which you can buy in Persian shops either dried or already reconstituted in jars. I used the latter. And instead of drizzling the dip with olive oil, Persians use the much more luxurious saffron water as garnish together with a little of the caramelised onions and chopped walnuts which you can toast lightly to enhance their flavour.
I resisted instagram for years but finally gave in last week and since then, I have been having fun taking pictures and trying out the different filters. They must have improved them from when they launched as I remember not liking the effects then whereas I do now although not all. In any case, today I thought I would post a recipe in pictures and as I was looking back at the pictures, I thought why not post the recipe here. So here it is together with the instagrammed pictures. When I bought the baby carrots, I had intended to cook them like I often do new potatoes in olive oil with saffron and parsley but as I was looking through my Moroccan recipes, I came across one for sweet potatoes with cumin, ginger and paprika and coriander and I decided to go with that substituting my baby carrots for the sweet potatoes.