It was the wonderful Rose Prince who introduced me to this Sicilian method of cooking with cauliflower. At first, it was just a brief mention in a Telegraph article: having rued the demise of the cauliflower’s popularity, she casually dropped in to conversation that ‘Sicilians fry florets in olive oil then add some saffron-infused water, capers, currants and pine nuts’ before stirring into pasta, perhaps with a handful of toasted breadcrumbs. I read no further; my attention fully and completely taken with such a simple but glorious method of using cauliflower. But then, that’s what the Italians & Sicilians are renowned for: simple, spectacular food. A few weeks later I came across her version of that very same dish - again, in the Telegraph, which left aside the capers and currants and instead added the pungent bite of mustard seeds.
I think both would be good, but I am choosing to stay with the original, although with the addition of a little chopped parsley, the exclusion of the breadcrumbs and the introduction of some lovely gluten-free corn penne (but who’s to argue?) I think in both cases it’s important to use good quality olive oil, the flavour being very much an integral part of the dish. My natural inclination is always to roast rather than fry and I so love the flavour of lightly roasted brassicas – especially cauliflower and broccoli, although it isn’t a popular method of cooking them. I was so keen to make this, having been lured in by just that one sentence, and I truly wasn’t disappointed. The florets roast just long enough that their balmy white stalks become tender and start to crisp and crunch where they lie against the pan, the gold of the saffron intensifies the caramelised hue that they take on, while the stark green of the capers and parsley sits serenely between. Creamy whites, golds and green: such a beautifully calming coloured plate of food, only slightly out done by its flavours. Delicious.
SICILIAN ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH PENNE
400g/12oz gluten free penne – I recommend Doves Farm Penne
12 strands of saffron
50g capers, drained and rinsed
50g pine nuts
A small bunch of fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic
4 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil plus extra for drizzling
Preheat the oven to 180c (160c Fan). Roast the pine nuts in the oven until golden and toasted, and then set aside to cool down. Trim the outer leaves and base from the cauliflower and then cut into small florets. Peel the garlic cloves and slice into fine rounds. Cover the raisins in boiling water, leave for 20 minutes or so and then drain and set aside for later. Place the cauliflower florets into a large roasting pan, scatter over the sliced garlic and saffron threads and then pour over the olive oil. Season well and mix together gently.
Roast the cauliflower in the oven for 20 minutes until the florets are tender and just starting to caramelise on their edges – you may find that the garlic starts to really crisp up, don’t be too alarmed, it adds a rather lovely smoky element to the overall flavour. Meanwhile, heat a large vat of salted water until at a rolling boil. Tip in the penne and give the pasta an initial stir to ensure it doesn’t stick. Cook for around 10 minutes (follow the packet guidelines) or until al dente in texture, drain the pasta and tip in to a large serving bowl. Add the cauliflower, capers, pine nuts, raisins and parsley to the penne. Season, drizzle over a little extra olive oil and then give the whole mixture a gentle stir to ensure everything is combined and the penne is coated in the saffron oil, and then serve.
You can also see this recipe at Cybele Pascal's Allergen Free Cuisine