I’ve been so enjoying the wonderful BBC2 series, Sicily Unpacked, with Andrew Graham-Dixon and Giorgio Locatelli that it’s got me thinking Sicilian cooking. This was a recipe I used to cook a lot from Antonio Carluccio’s Vegetables, a really lovely book that – as the title suggests – is all about Italian ways of cooking vegetables. I remembered this one, Cavolfiore Affogato, as Sicilian, though in fact Carluccio describes it as Neapolitan but with influences from further south. When I showed it to my Italian teacher in the course of trying to talk food and cooking in Italian, he definitely thought this was a Sicilian dish – and Fabio comes from Palermo. But wherever its origins – and how often is there a definitive origin in cooking? – this is a fabulous dish and a wonderful way of cooking cauliflower.
In England when we think ‘cauliflower’ we tend to think cauliflower cheese, or cauliflower with white sauce (which isn’t much different from with cheese sauce!). Cauliflower also makes a lovely soup and it’s actually very nice raw as a crudite with dips. But most of the time, we Brits aren’t very inventive with this vegetable – in fact, we can be quite dismissive of it. But the Italians bring a totally new dimension to the wonderful cauliflower and once you’ve tried this dish, I promise you, you’ll never look at a cauliflower in the same way again!
Cavolfiore Affogato literally means, ‘drowned cauliflower’ – and in this case, it’s pretty much drowned in olive oil! But then, it is an Italian recipe. It can be a bit alarming looking at your cauliflower florets ‘drowning’ in a sea of olive oil when you start cooking, but by the end, the vegetable takes up the wonderful fruity flavour of the oil, the sweetness of the raisins and pine kernels and the gorgeous earthiness of the saffron and becomes a cauliflower transformed. You can serve it, as I did last night, as a side vegetable with simply cooked chicken or fish, but it would make a meal on its own with some lovely crusty bread to soak up the delicious juices.
I pretty much followed Carluccio’s recipe with just slight alterations. Take a cauliflower weighing about 750g. Cut it into florets, discarding tough stems and leaves, and cut larger florets into two so the pieces are a uniform size. Soak a pinch of saffron in a little hot water. Gently warm 100ml olive oil in a large pan with a lid. Now add the florets, the saffron, 2 cloves of garlic (cut in half so you can discard at the end), and just a little hot water. Stir round and then cover with the lid and cook gently for 15 minutes. Then add 25g pine kernels, 25g raisins and some salt and pepper. Stir again and cover and continue to cook gently for another 10-15 minutes – or until the cauliflower is al dente (just tender). Discard the garlic.
Serve as a side dish or main course … and if there’s some left over, then it’s going to taste good cold too as part of a salad.