|Sicilian Roasted Cauliflower with Raisins|
Last Saturday morning, shortly after I woke up, I decided to start my weekend with a trip to the farmers market. It’s always a hard decision for me to leave my warm house, but this is especially true when the neighboring rooftops are covered with frost and my windshield is encased in a thick enough layer of ice to require a scraping. Since I don’t own an ice scraper and have to resort to using my Johnny Cash CD case, I don’t take venturing out on early winter mornings lightly.
But, I love the farmers market. Particularly on bitter cold mornings when the crowds are thin and the produce limited and at times, a little beat up. I find myself genuinely moved to walk among the tables and to talk, intimately, with the farmers about their crops, to listen, patiently, to their challenges and to share with them how I plan on preparing whatever it is that I am purchasing. It strikes me how simple and beautiful it is that my dinner was grown by the hands from which I am making my purchase. I must also add–I am a sucker for the details–the beat up, mud-splattered trucks into which they load their baskets, their worn down gloves and well used hats, both of which keep them warm on these cold mornings and the hand-lettered signs constructed of cardboard and marker that dot the tables.
Mostly, I love how they recognize me and that my regular trips have resulted in a familiar sort of relationship and even though we haven’t shared our names, we definitely share a few jokes. So that Saturday, when I wandered up to one of my favorite vendors, I spied a fantastically large and strikingly white head of cauliflower. It was massive–bigger than my head–and right then and there, I wanted it. Badly. The vendor had seen my fixed gaze and merrily called out, “You want the big head? I can tell you want the big head.” The few people within earshot began to look around and soon enough, I became the focal point of the crowd.
I nodded and called back, “Of course I want the big head. Who wouldn’t?” There were a few chuckles here and there and even a gasp. I heard one lady whisper loudly to her husband, “What can you do with that much cauliflower?” Most people probably wouldn’t know what to do; but I did. I was going to make my version of the famous Sicilian dish of roasted cauliflower with raisins and capers and breadcrumbs. A perfect dish for a winter night.
If you’ve ever had the fortune to travel to Italy, you must know that there are many regions and each has their own spectacular dishes. Sicily is a bit of a black sheep. Many Italians don’t really consider it to be part of the real Italy, and I could see that. Sicily is an island and with only 100 miles separating it from Tunisia, the cuisine has a definite Arabic influence. Making things even more interesting, both Tunisia and the fairly close Morocco were, at one time French territories, so Sicilian food not only has definite Arabic influences, but French, as well.
In Sicily, cauliflower is a very popular vegetable, and while Sicilian cauliflower is smaller and green in color, the flavor is the same. This simple dish is colorful and because it incorporates both raisins and capers, is sweet and savory. You don’t have to add the anchovies, but you should. Anchovies don’t have a fishy taste, just a deep rounded taste; they add the fifth taste, umami to the dish.
Sicilian Roasted Cauliflower with Raisins, Capers and Breadcrumbs
1 head of cauliflower, cleaned, cored and separated into small florets
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I use Panko™ toasted in melted butter)
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf Italian parsley
1 T. capers
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
1. Heat oven to 375º.
2. Arrange cauliflower florets on a baking sheet and drizzle generously with olive oil; toss to coat. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
3. Roast cauliflower until browned and cooked (I like mine a little firmer).
4. Toss cauliflower with raisins and return to the oven until the raisins are soft and puffed–about 10 minutes.
5. Mix anchovy paste with 1 T. of olive oil.
6. Remove cauliflower from the oven and drizzle with the anchovy/olive oil; add a few squeezes of lemon, the capers, breadcrumbs and parsley. Toss to coat.
7. Serve immediately.