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Cauliflower, saffron, anchovies + ...

"As always, we never seem to do the ingredient du jour by halves"

Nigel Slater

It's an unbelievably, considering it's summer, wet, coldish, completely miserable day. Wintry in fact, so I'm going to combine winter (cauliflower) with summer (saffron and anchovies) for today's ramble. It's inspired by a Sicilian recipe from Rachel Roddy's An A-Z of Pasta - Buccatini con i broccoli arriminati.

Elsewhere - on The Guardian website the same recipe is called Pasta chi vruoccoli arriminati - or, as she translates it - Pasta with cauliflower, onion and anchovy. The saffron is not mentioned here and the onions are not mentioned in the book, but it is indeed the same recipe. In both versions you are given a choice of pasta.

It turns out that this is a Sicilian dish, which also includes currants, breadcrumbs and pine-nuts:

"In Palermo, we have our ingredients—anchovies for umami, saffron for floralness, pine nuts for nutty bitterness, raisins for sweetness, and breadcrumbs for their salty crunch." Salvatore Agusta

The breadcrumbs are essential.

However, "Oddly enough Italian cookery books do not give many recipes for cauliflower" said Jane Grigson in her Vegetable Book, back in the 70s and indeed this is so. Neither Claudia Roden nor Elizabeth David mention cauliflower and broccoli doesn't get much of a look in either. As for this particular recipe, even The Silver Spoon - supposedly the authority on Italian food does not have this recipe. Yet today there are countless versions out there - all telling us that it's a traditional recipe from Palermo, with it often having been handed down through the genarations, Here are three of the versions I found plus one picture of the basic ingredients: Pasta chi Vruocculi Arriminati - Skye McAlpine/NewYork Times; Pasta chi Vruoccoli Arriminati (Sicilian Pasta With Cauliflower and Toasted Breadcrumbs) - Sasha Marx/Serious Eats and Pasta chi Vruocculi Arriminati - Savoring Italy.

Now I have a couple of thoughts about why this recipe should be - well - increasingly trendy. My first thought was that actually this is a recipe for a broccoli pasta - 'vruocculi' after all means broccoli, although somebody - maybe rationalising - said that, colloquially in Palermo, it also meant cauliflower. My thoughts on that are that broccoli is no longer as fashionable as it was and cauliflower is. And honestly the two are indeed interchangeable in recipes such as these. I also noticed a few going for the even trendier coloured cauliflowers and the romesco cauliflower as well - those pointed green ones.

The second thought is that cauliflower is indeed having its moment in the sun and therefore everyone is looking for interesting ways of dealing with it - and one of the first places you look is broccoli.

And lastly - bolognaise, lasagne, carbonara and even cacio e pepe are becoming a bit ho hum these days and so increasingly more obscure regional dishes are being revived. And Sicily is 'hot' as a travel destination, just to add to the list of reasons why. And let me say I object to none of this.

The method varies a little bit, the main difference being how you cook the cauliflower - until it's so soft it's almost a sauce - or sautéed and crisp. Rachel Roddy is a fan of the soft approach:

"I recently came across a list of Sicilian words that are difficult to translate, and arriminati is noted as being closest to rimescolati, which means mixed again or reshuffled, and is used to describe both playing cards and pasta. It is an odd translation, I know, “pasta with reshuffled cauliflower”, but a helpful one, I think, especially if your idea of shuffling is the granny shuffle: that is, to throw them all down and mix wildly. Because, like smash before cucumber or whip before cream, it emphasises the importance of the action. The first shuffle of the boiled cauliflower with oil, onion, anchovy; the second shuffle, of what is now an almost cream, with the pasta." Rachel Roddy

Whether this is an authentic dish or not there are also variations - one - supposedly also authentic, in which tomatoes are added to the mix: Ditali Pasta with Cauliflower and Saffron and Tomato Cream Sauce - Rick Stein/Jono and Jules and one from Saveur which is simply called Pasta with cauliflower which to me rather denotes the kind of dish this is. The kind where you go to the fridge, find you have cauliflower and decide to concoct something Sicilian because you fancy their typical ingredients on that day.

But of course I couldn't stop with pasta. I wondered what others had done with those three ingredients - cauliflower, anchovy and saffron.

Answer number one - salad - Cauliflower salad with saffron from Love My Salad and Roasted cauliflower salad with saffron vinaigrette - Valerie Bertinelli/Food Network, which doesn't actually include the anchovies although it easily could. I included it because of the source - an actress in an American half-hour comedy series called Hot in Cleveland which we watch to unwind at the end of the day sometimes. It's not the world's greatest program but is mildly amusing, and i just seemed such an unlikely source for what looked like a pretty nice salad - rather nicer than the other one.

Roasted is next: the Roasted cauliflower wedges from the Homegrown Kitchen at the top of the page which add the saffron to yoghurt as a sauce and the anchovies to the dressing with hazelnuts for crunch and mandarins for sweetness.

Then there is this Slow-roasted cauliflower with pounded anchovies from a website called In Praise of Sardines. I confess the saffron is missing here but it could easily be added.

I guess chef José Pizarro's Whole roasted cauliflower with anchovy sauce is the most spectacular, and demonstrates a different way with the anchovies, but again there is no saffron. Maybe you could mix it with the oil you drizzle over the cauliflower?

Three outriders finish this exploration of cauliflower, saffron and anchovies, although I have no recipe for Cauliflower and its leaves cooked in saffron, white anchovy, which is dish served at Timbre Kitchen in Tasmania. Then there is Cauliflower Risotto with Caramelized Carrots, Saffron & Toasted Anchovy Bread Crumbs ftom Delightful-Delicious-De-lovely and finally Club Med couscous from Warren Elwin in The NZ Herald.

So next time you are faced with cauliflower, on a wet day think Sicily, sunshine, saffron and anchovies and go from there - a tart, soup, a tray bake, a filo pastry ...

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