Today's Cook the Book recipe, the first to be excerpted from Lidia's Italy, is for Gemelli with Smothered Cauliflower and Saffron. Distinctly Sicilian, this fragrant pasta dish combines traditional ingredients such as pine nuts, fresh basil, golden raisins and...anchovies.
While my first experience with anchovies was less than savory (it involved, at the tender age of six, a wayward topping on a slice of Papa Gino's cheese pizza) I've since learned to appreciate the salty, hairy little fish. I'd still never eat one whole or unadorned, but I love the briny flavor they impart in Caesar salads, olive tapenades, and puttanescas. In this recipe, just one tablespoon of chopped fillets is enough to enhance the entire dish.
- 1 1/2 tablespoons coarse sea salt or kosher salt, or to taste
- 1 large cauliflower, 2 1/2 to 3 pounds
- 1/8 teaspoon saffron (about 7 threads)
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for finishing
- 1 onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
- 3 small anchovy fillets, finely chopped (1 tablespoon)
- 1/4 cup golden raisins
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1 pound gemelli (dry pasta)
- 8 large fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 cup grated pecorino, plus more for the table
Fill a large pot with 6 quarts of water, add 1 1/2 tablespoons of coarse salt, and heat to a boil. Trim the cauliflower, and cut all the florets and tender stems into 1-inch pieces. Rinse the pieces, and blanch them in boiling water until slightly al dente, about 5 minutes. Lift the cauliflower from the pot with a spider, drain briefly, and drop the pieces into a bowl.
Ladle 1 cup of the hot water into a spouted measuring cup, and drop in the saffron to soak. (Cover the big pot and keep over low heat, so it is ready to cook the gemelli.)
Pour the 1/3 cup of olive oil into the big skillet, place over medium-high heat, and stir in the onion. Cook until the onion is wilted and lightly colored, about 5 minutes, then stir in the chopped anchovy. When the anchovy sizzles and melts in the oil, pour in the saffron-infused water, the blanched cauliflower, the raisins, and the pine nuts. Toss everything together, cover the pan, and cook for a couple of minutes in the steam.
Meanwhile, return the big pot of water to a rolling boil, and drop in the gemelli at the same time as the cauliflower goes into the skillet. Cook them simultaneously. Boil the gemelli for about 10 minutes, until almost al dente. Uncover the skillet, lower the heat, and cook the cauliflower dressing slowly, evaporating all the moisture, so the vegetables are caramelized and flavorful with the pasta is ready. Taste, and adjust seasoning.
Lift the gemelli from the cooking pot and drop them, still wet, into the skillet. Toss pasta and cauliflower together for a minute or two. If the dish seems dry, ladle in a bit more pasta water and toss until amalgamated. Turn off the heat, tear the basil leaves into small shreds, and toss in. Sprinkle over it the pecorino, drizzle with olive oil, and toss well. Serve right away, passing more grated cheese at the table.