In recognition of the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, revealed this week in the conclusion of a five-year diet experiment conducted in Spain, I was inspired this morning to share one of my personal favorites from my cookbook You Never Grow Old at the Dinner Table. Having had grandparents live well into their 90’s, amongst other relatives in Italy in their 80’s still riding bicycles to the market every day or to the local winemaker to bring home liters of Merlot in their bicycle basket, I take for granted that the Italian diet has to be good for you. My grandfather in northern Italy spent every day of his life reaping the benefits of the family farm, and never a day of his life in a hospital.
This pasta dish is a classic example of a rich Mediterranean diet:
Pasta with Cauliflower Sauce
The whole idea of this very traditional Sicilian dish is to cook the cauliflower until it basically falls apart and becomes the “sauce” for your pasta. It is also very Sicilian to use anchovies in pasta, which we happen to love in our family. Many people cringe when I even mention the word “anchovy,” but as you will see, the trick is learning how to cook with it. You will be amazed to find how unique this sauce tastes because of the anchovies, yet no one will ever “know” your secret.
1 large cauliflower head, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon tumeric powder (for color)
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (2-ounce) can anchovy fillets packed in olive oil, half drained
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/4 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
1 pound farfalle pasta
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more to serve
Being a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Add the cauliflower, boil for 3 minutes, then remove cauliflower with a slotted spoon and set aside on a separate dish. Reserve one cup of the cooking water, adding the tumeric into the cup and mixing well to dissolve. Leave the pot of water on the stovetop.
In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over a medium-high flame. Add the onion and the salt, and sauté until onion is golden, about 10 minutes. Mix in the anchovies until they melt into the onions. Add the pine nuts, raisins, red chili pepper flakes, and the cauliflower. Add the reserved cup of water, mixing well with the ingredients, reduce the flame to low and cover. Cook about 15 minutes, mixing occasionally, until cauliflower is cooked well and falling apart. You can prepare this part ahead of time.
Bring the large pot of water to a boil again and cook the pasta according to directions for time, until tender, but not limp. Reserve one cup of the cooking water, drain the pasta, and transfer it back to the large pot. Add the “cauliflower sauce,” the reserved cup of water, freshly ground pepper, and 1/4 cup of Pecorino Romano cheese, tossing well to evenly coat the pasta.
Transfer to a large platter and serve with extra grated Pecorino Romano cheese at the dinner table.
If you want to complete the experience with a glass of red wine, this dish pairs well with a light red wine; for example, a Pinot Noir.
Copyright © 2012 Marinella Pollo
Marinella’s cookbook You Never Grow Old at the Dinner Table can be found at Vroman’s, in Kindle format at Amazon, at Claro’s Italian Markets, or at SpadaBooks.com. You can also find her recipes and musings on her blog Piazza Press.