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 seem to specialise in dramatically changing the course of my life every few years, mainly for the sake of keeping it interesting. When I was young I did it every five years or so. Now that I am older, it is every ten years or so. This year I decided to change my life again. I sold my beautiful loft to downsize in London and upsize in Sicily where I plan to build my dream house. It wasn’t a rash decision. I have been wanting to build my dream house for a few years now; and I toyed with different ideas of where to do it. Syria was once an option! Then I considered California, also France and even Spain despite not speaking any Spanish. Then one day, I decided to go to the olive harvest on Mary Taylor Simeti‘s farm in Sicily and while there I decided that Sicily was where I would make this happen. The landscape and way of life there are very close to those in Lebanon and Syria where I grew up, but more orderly and with no risk of ISIS ever coming close. I had been to Sicily before but living on Mary’s farm in my own little casetta made me feel that the island was where I could feel I was going back home without actually doing so. And so it was. Mary introduced me to a friend of hers, Giovanni Matta, who took me to three different plots in one single day and the last one turned out to be the perfect spot. I must have been born under a lucky star!
Foraging has been all the rage for some time now but in many countries people have been doing it forever. In Lebanon, people go out in the spring to pick wild greens they call sliq and in Sicily, where I am right now on Mary Taylor Simeti‘s farm, they pick whatever is edible and use it one way or another. It was my first time there in February and I was surprised by how glorious the landscape was with almond trees in full bloom and the fields covered with yellow flowers, some of which are edible cavolicelli flowers with a slightly peppery taste. As I was admiring and tasting them, I suggested to Mary that we try them tempura style. She liked the idea and we picked some, together with sage leaves, a green cauliflower and a pumpkin to do a mixed tempura.
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.