Sicilian pasta with cauliflower, in Sicilian: ci vruoccoli arrimaniti, basically means pasta stirred with broccoli. The word broccoli here refers to both cauliflower and broccoli.
Pasta with cauliflower, or with broccoli, is a traditional recipe of Sicilian cuisine. It is a dish much loved by the Sicilian writer Camilleri who brought it to international fame through his best known character, Inspector Montalbano.
There are several Italian pasta dishes that combine pasta with vegetables but you may be wondering what’s so special about this pasta and cauliflower that makes it Sicilian?
The ingredients used in this cauliflower pasta recipe, specifically the raisins, pine nuts and saffron clearly demonstrate the Arab influence on Sicilian cuisine. It is a combination that you’ll find time and time again in dishes such as Roast Chicken with Potatoes, Onions and Raisins
The use of toasted breadcrumbs on pasta is referred to as poor man’s cheese since parmigiano was not necessarily affordable. The toasted breadcrumbs, or muddica as we call it, add a wonderful nutty flavor to the dish as well as a satisfying crunch.
This is definitely not a dish where the cauliflower retains any crispness. Italians are known for cooking their vegetables until quite soft. Here the cauliflower is boiled until it is tender and falls apart when combined with the pasta.
- 1 head cauliflower
- 1/4 cup raisins or currants
- 1 envelope saffron
- 2 tbsp pine nuts
- 1/3 cup dry unseasoned breadcrumbs
- 2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
- 2-3 canned anchovy filets or anchovy paste (optional)
- 225 grams (1/2 lb) gemelli pasta or other short pasta such as penne rigate, rigatoni, fusilli
- Pecorino cheese for serving
- Begin by bringing a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, separate cauliflower into bite size florets. When the water comes to a boil, add salt and cook cauliflower until tender, 6-8 minutes. Drain with a slotted spoon, place in a bowl and set aside. Reserve the water to boil the pasta.
- Soak raisins by placing in a bowl and covering with warm water. Dissolve saffron in a bowl with 2-3 tbsp warm water. Coarsely chop the pine nuts, or leave whole if desired.
- Toast breadcrumbs in a small pan with a bit of olive oil until lightly browned and crisp, 3-4 minutes. Set aside.
- Bring the pot of water to a boil once again. Cook gemelli pasta, or pasta of your choice, until al dente.
- While the pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a large, deep skillet. Sauté onions until soft, then add garlic and anchovy filets or anchovy paste and red pepper flakes (optional).
- Add raisins, pine nuts, saffron water and the cooked cauliflower. Stir all ingredients together and break up the cauliflower into small pieces with a wooden spoon.
- When the pasta is ready, drain and add to the skillet with the cauliflower mixture. Mix together adding pasta water as needed to create a thick sauce. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
- Serve hot topped with crispy breadcrumbs and grated Pecorino cheese.