Gemelli with Cauliflower and Saffron
I went through my blog the other day and counted how many recipes I had from each region. Most of the results weren’t surprising at all, like Campania containing the most recipes, needs no explanation, but husband is Napoletano. Small regions in the north had the least, again, no explanation needed, I’ve never been to most of those regions and therefore not too familiar with their cuisine. Sicily also had a high number of posts, which is only surprising only because I never spent any extended period of time there, only three short visits. Needless to say, I fell in love, and if I had to choose one regional Italian cuisine that I was forced to eat for the rest of my life, well, it would definitely be Sicilian.
This is yet another Lidia recipe. I had checked one of her cookbooks out of the library, was gushing over it for a month and making as many recipes as I could squeeze into that time period. My husband, very sweetly bought me one of her other cookbooks for Christmas. This one focusing on another group of regions in Italy, including, of course, Campania and Sicily. Like I needed more recipes from these two regions. I am, of course, kidding, because one of the beauties of her repertoire is that she may throw in a few classics, but the bulk of the recipes featured are fairly unique, things that I had never come across before. Like this one using cauliflower, saffron, raisins and pine nuts. A brilliant and delicious combination.
Pasta con Cavolfiore e Zafferano
adapted from Lidia’s Italy by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
- 1½ tbsp salt
- 1 large cauliflower, 2½ to 3 pounds
- 1/8 tsp saffron
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for finishing
- 1 onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
- 3 small anchovy fillets, finely chopped (1 tbsp)
- ¼ cup golden raisins
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- 1 pound gemelli
- 8 large fresh basil leaves
- ½ cup grated pecorino, plus more for the table
Fill a large pot with 6 quarts of water, add 1½ tbsp of coarse salt, and heat to a boil. Trim the cauliflower, and cut all the florets and tender stems into 1-inch pieces. Rinse the pieces, and blanch them in the boiling water until slightly al dente, about 5 minutes. Lift the cauliflower from the pot with a spider, drain briefly, and drop the pieces into a bowl.
Ladle 1 cup of the hot water into a spouted measuring cup, ad drop in the saffron to soak. (Cover the big pot and keep over low heat, so it is ready to cook the gemelli.)
Pour the 1/3 cup of olive oil in a big skillet, place over medium-high heat, and stir in the onion. Cook until the onion is wilted and lightly colored, about 5 minutes, then stir in the chopped anchovy. When the anchovy sizzles and melts in the oil, pour in the saffron-infused water, the blanched cauliflower, the raisins and the pine nuts. Toss everything together, cover the pan, and cook for a couple of minutes in the steam.
Meanwhile return the big pot of water to a rolling boil, and drop in the gemelli at the same time as the cauliflower goes into the skillet. Cook them simultaneously. Boil the gemelli for about 10 minutes, until almost al dente. Uncover the skillet, lower the heat, and cook the cauliflower dressing slowly, evaporating all the moisture, so the vegetable are caramelized and flavorful when the pasta is ready. Taste, and adjust seasoning.
Lift the gemelli from the cooking pot, and drop them, still wet, into the skillet. Toss pasta and cauliflower together for a minute or two. If the dish seems dry, ladle a bit more pasta water and toss until amalgamated. Turn off the heat, tear the basil leaves in small shreds, and toss in. Sprinkle the pecorino over the pasta, drizzle with olive oil, and toss well. Serve right away, passing more grated cheese at the table.