Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Spaghetti con cavolfiore - a traditional Sicilian dish made vegan!

I love Sicilian food. I love food from other regions of Italy, don't get me wrong. But I love Sicilian food the most. It's in my blood, it's in my bones, it's sunk deep into my flesh like the tattoos that others can see, but realer and more profound.

Sicilian cooking is simpler and features ingredients bursting with bright warm sunshine, ingredients that are accessible to even the most rural people on the island. Sicilian cooking may be simple, but it is fuller in flavor and overlaps with Arab and Spanish and northern Italian cuisine. The use of raisins, saffron, pine nuts, seafood, etc. make it distinctive.

Sicilian cooking is the cooking of my childhood, my family, the comfort my Nonna brought me as a kid. She knew I was sensitive and always had my back, ready to scream someone's head off in Sicilian dialect if they were say, my Nonno giving me a hard time for not finishing my dinner or my mom giving me a hard time for all the other things.

The spaghetti and cauliflower dish I made the other night is not a dish my Nonna makes, but a dish my cousin (her nephew), who lives in Italy with our other family on that side, makes. He owns his own restaurant and cares about food and Sicliy and family more than anything else. I checked with him before Ketch and I made this dish to make sure we were going about it the best way.


1 pound gluten-free spaghetti or standard (gluten) bucatini
1 head of cauliflower (organic if possible)
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 small/medium onion, minced
2 big pinches saffron (15-20 threads?)
1 cup+ chopped fresh parsley (organic if possible)
golden raisins (organic if possible)
pine nuts
breadcrumbs (gluten free or standard)
fresh ground sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
pot of tomato sauce (homemade or jar - use something really nice and organic if it's from a jar)
  ** I'll follow up in the future with my homemade sauce recipe, I promise.

In one large pot, boil water, sea salt, 4-6 saffron threads, and 1 pound pasta. Follow cooking instructions (they differ for standard and gluten-free).

In another sauce pan, heat your (preferably homemade) tomato sauce on the lowest setting to keep warm but not boil or burn.

On the side, chop cauliflower very small OR grate with a grater to be even smaller. Set aside. Chop or mince fresh parsley and set aside as well.

In a cast iron skillet or sautéing pan, drizzle a swirl of high quality flavorful olive oil and start on simmering those chopped onions on low heat. Once translucent, add the minced garlic and stir (with a wooden spoon, nonna-style). After 3 or so minutes, add in the cauliflower and stir until evenly coated in olive oil.

Add in a cup or two of tomato sauce and saffron, allowing the cauliflower to soften in the sauce and the saffron to release it's flavors. (Alternately, sometimes I put the saffron in a small bowl of hot water, let it steep til a bright sunshine-y yellow, and then pour on the cauliflower before adding the tomato sauce).

Toss in the beautiful bright green parsley and golden raisins. The liquid will cause the raisins to plumpen and get extra juicy. It feels like they are leaking sweet sunshine into your mouth. Be sure to save a handful of parsley to throw on at the end! It makes everything look fancy and mega-delicious. Grind in the salt and pepper to taste.

Add more tomato sauce if needed. This isn't a sauce-heavy dish; it should be just enough to coat all the ingredients and keep them from being dry. It should not dominate the dish - think less sauce than spaghetti and meatballs.

While this is simmering, spread the pine nuts out on a half a baking sheet and the breadcrumbs on the other half. Toast at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes until toasty and slightly browned.

Once the cauliflower is soft and everything is all simmered together, toss with pasta. Add more sauce if desired. Scoop onto plates and sprinkle on toasty breadcrumbs and pine nuts, and top with the chopped parsley.

Ketch made us blood-orange and gin cocktails that were exceptional. We also had a spinach salad with roasted carrots, beets, and onions and a side dish of fresh fennel and parsley. All my favorite flavors in one place, with my little family in our sweet little NYC apartment. It was perhaps the best meal we've ever made, with every flavor complementing each other and making us ready for our next adventure abroad. Ketch has never been to Sicily, and I haven't been there in ten years. When we finally go, I'm pretty sure our brains with burst with joy.

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