It’s amazing the things we remember growing up. Back in the 60’s I used to watch a TV show that featured the “Cool Ghoul”, Zacherley. Zacherley used to host programs that showed horror movies and back in the 60’s he hosted Chiller Theatre, among other shows including Hercules cartoons, on WOR channel 9. He would broadcast from his crypt with a whole host of ghoulish characters including his wife, “My Dear”, who used to live in a coffin. Another was his son Gasport who hung formlessly from the wall in a burlap bag and moaned. I loved his shows. One memorable moment was when he was injecting some kind of serum into a “cauliflower brain” trying to awaken it. Believe it or not, it was during the posting of this blog for the recipe of Pasta with cauliflower that reminded me of that moment watching Zacherley. Go figure.
This is about as Sicilian a dish as you can get. Cauliflower grows abundantly in Sicily. And around my grandmother’s town of Catania they grow a purple variety that is native to that area. The volcanic soil around Mount Etna is rich in nutrients and the purple cauliflower is like nothing found anywhere else. Like most imigrants that came to this country they had to use the ingredients that were available to them. If you can’t get a hold of purple cauliflower the white variety will have to do.
Cauliflower does not have much flavor to it. The housewifes and chefs had a challange and with this dish produced something with amazing flavor. The sicilian cooks prepared this dish to use an inexpensive vegetable that was plentiful. As with many Italian dishes, each region makes this a little different. Some don’t use tomato paste, others add breadcrumbs to the finisned dish instead of cheese. Others bake the finished pasta with a sprinkle of breadcrumbs over the top. The key is to make sure the sauce is moist and gently stirred and cooked down.
This is the way I remember my grandmother making pasta cui vroccoli arriminati. I would detect the aroma as soon as I entered her apartment to see what was cooking on a Sunday afternoon.
Wash and cut up the cauliflower into small florets and boil in plenty of salted water until soft. You will need enough water to cook the cauliflower, add to the sauce and cook the pasta. So fill up the pot.
In the meantime, over low heat sauté the chopped onion in olive oil until soft.
Add the anchovies, raisins, tomato paste and the pine nuts, and two cups of the cauliflower water.
Mix well and cook gently for about 10 minutes, breaking up the anchovies until they disolve into the sauce.
When cooked, turn the heat up high and add the cauliflower to the sauce using a slotted spoon to remove the cauliflower from the water. Add another 2 cups of cauliflower water while slightly mashing the cauliflower, mixing it with the other ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste and leave to cook gently, making sure it doesn’t get too dry. If it does, add more cauliflower water. Add the saffron to the sauce and mix in thoroughly.
Cook the pasta in the cauliflower water and drain when ready.
Serve the cauliflower sauce on top of the pasta and sprinkle liberally with parmesan cheese.