I've written here before about my unfortunate lack of culinary heritage or familial culture of food, and how I love to find and create meals that could have been cooked for me by my fantasy grandmother or imaginary mom.
Well, my friend Salvatore de Simone never had to worry about any of that. He grew up eating this rich and comforting Sicilian pasta and cauliflower dish, a meal his grandmother used to make and one that his mother, Luisa, still cooks for him - with just a few additions of her own. Yes, I am a bit jealous!
When Salvatore first posted a grainy cell phone photo of this dish on Facebook, I knew I had to try it. For one thing, this guy knows good food. He owns Vesuvio Ristorante & Pizzeria in Forked River, NJ, and in a world where people actually think that Dominos is decent and the Olive Garden is authentic Italian food, the pies he makes reminds you that real pizza-making is actually an art. For another thing, his brief description of this as a traditional Sicilian pasta dish with a little Moroccan influence had my curiosity piqued in a big way.
But when he said his mamma made it for him, my heart sank a little. Surely this was going to be some secret family recipe? Not to worry! The de Simones didn't mind sharing the love, and now it's my pleasure to pass it on.
As the best family recipes tend to do, this one didn't come with any measurements. So just feel your way through it. The combination of flavors is truly unique; I would never have thought to combine these ingredients. But as you'll see, they come together to create a perfect balance of taste and texture: salty, sweet, tangy, crunchy, and chewy.
Luisa de Simone's Pasta with Cauliflower, per Salvatore's directions:
Boil cauliflower (one head) until tender. While cauliflower is boiling sautee chopped red onions in extra virgin olive oil. When the onions are translucent, add a small can of anchovy fillets. When the anchovies melt, add pine nuts and raisins (black and golden) and then add the cauliflower little by little. Use the boiling cauliflower water to cook your pasta (whole wheat rigatoni or penne rigate). When the pasta is finished, throw it in the sautee pan saving some pasta water to keep it moist. Season with a lot of salt and pepper, then top off with toasted bread crumbs or parmigiana cheese - or both!
Salvatore says that the raisins and toasted breadcrumbs are his mom's contribution to this wonderful dish. Actually, I can't imagine the dish without that touch of sweetness - it plays perfectly off of the saltiness the anchovies bring. Unfortunately Poppa Trix isn't a huge raisin fan, so to get the sweetness and stay true to the Moroccan inflence, I used dried dates, which I thought worked really well.
Thanks to Salvatore and his Mamma for this new favorite!