Rachel Roddy's recipe for pasta with cauliflower, onions and anchovies

This healthy Sicilian pasta may not look very appealing, but it's sure to suit your taste buds.

Driving on the outskirts of Gela in Sicily last summer, we passed a truck, its open back full of cauliflower in pea green, electric purple and white. Such trucks are a common but always striking sight in Italy. Especially this one, with its extremely high tricolor head wall, several of which had toppled over and rolled onto the road, where they met a messy end. We stopped for gas and lemonade at the garage across the street. I thought I was trying to take a shot, but it was someone else in the car who summed up the scene: "Joker's truck," they said. I didn't immediately understand what that meant, but when I did, all of the previous descriptions — cumulus clouds, cream-colored curds — disappeared, and all I could see was a green shirt, purple suit, and white face: a pile of Joker from Batman.

Months later, and it's still the first thing that comes to mind when I pick cauliflower. Even the freshly cut ones with curd cream and chiselled leaves from my friend Carla Tomasi's garden are exquisite greens, with something about Jack Nicholson.

Sicily and, more specifically. the Palermitano name for this dish is vruócculi arriminati. Vruócculi is the dialect for broccoli, but in Palermo as well as in Gela, cavolfiore (cauliflower) is often called broccoli. And what about arriminati? I recently came across a list of Sicilian words that are difficult to translate, and arriminati is considered the closest to rimescolati, which means to mix again or re-shuffle, and is used to describe playing cards and pasta. It's an odd translation, I know, "pasta with re-whipped cauliflower," but I find a helpful translation, especially if your idea of shuffling is grandma's scrambling: i.e., throwing it all out and mixing it up wildly. Because, like crush before cucumber or whip before cream, it emphasizes the importance of action. First whisk boiled cauliflower with oil, onions, anchovies; the second whisk, which is now almost creamy, with the paste.

It is optional, but recommended, to add cauliflower, onions and anchovies that have been re-whipped with toasted breadcrumbs. The best way to roast them – either fine dry crumbs or something milder – is to do it in a skillet with two tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt over medium-low heat. Use a wooden spoon to move it around the pan until it is light in color and smells like digestive biscuits. Even with the crumbs, this dish isn't meant to be pretty, but freeing the pasta, and the actor, from that stress is a good thing.

  • Pasta with cauliflower, onions and anchovies
  • Preparation 5 min
  • Cook 20 minutes
  • Serving 4
  • 1 large cauliflower
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and sliced
  • Salt
  • 4-6 anchovy fillets
  • 30g raisins (optional)
  • 30g almonds or pine nuts (optional)
  • 5 strands of turmeric
  • 400g short pasta – bucatini, casarecce, mezze maniche, fusilli
  • 50g breadcrumbs

Chop and separate the cauliflower into large florets. Cook them in boiling, well-salted water until tender - just that, because they will cook further with the other ingredients. Remove from the water and set aside, saving the water for the pasta.

In a large skillet over medium-low heat, warm four tablespoons of the olive oil and the onions and salt, stirring until the onions are soft. Add the anchovies, raisins, and almonds or pine nuts (if using), and cook another minute.

Add the cauliflower, stir, then add two tablespoons of the cauliflower cooking water and simmer for five minutes. Dissolve the turmeric in a little of the cauliflower water and add this at the last minute, stirring until the mixture is soft and gravy-like.

Bring the cauliflower water back to a boil, add the pasta and cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, in another skillet, toast the bread crumbs in the remaining two tablespoons olive oil with a pinch of salt, until golden brown and smells like digestive biscuits. Put the cauliflower mixture back on the heat to warm it up, adding a little more of the pasta cooking water if it looks dry.

When the pasta is al dente, drain or remove directly into the cauliflower pan, and stir to mix the ingredients together. Divide between plates and top with the toasted crumbs.

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