Bucatini with Cauliflower


This exotic combination is the most common Sicilian way of preparing pasta with cauliflower. Pine nuts and currants are used together in so many Sicilian dishes that markets sell them already combined. For that reason, it’s probably safe to say that most Sicilian cooks don’t plump the currants or toast the pine nuts for this dish, but I think both are worth doing.

 It’s always a challenge to specify an accurate quantity of saffron threads because they are awkward to measure. Err on the light side. You can always add more, but too much saffron can ruin a dish. From Four Seasons Pasta.

  • Generous 1/8 teaspoon saffron threads, or more if needed
  • 3 tablespoons currants or golden raisins
  • 1 medium cauliflower, 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 pounds
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, finely minced
  • Pinch hot pepper flakes
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • 8 anchovy fillets, minced to a paste
  • 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
  • 2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
  • 1 pound bucatini, perciatelli or spaghetti
  • 1/2 cup fine bread crumbs toasted in olive oil, optional

Soak the saffron threads in 2 tablespoons water for at least 20 minutes to allow their flavor to bloom. Plump the currants or raisins in 3 tablespoons warm water for about 20 minutes.

 Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Trim the cauliflower, removing any leaves and separating the florets from the stems. Try to leave the florets in large clusters so they don’t get soggy when cooked.

Add the florets to the boiling water and cook until barely tender when pierced, about 5 minutes. Lift the cauliflower out of the boiling water and let it cool, then chop it coarsely; you should still have some large pieces. Add another 1 cup water to the pot and return to a boil.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over moderately low heat. Add the onion and a generous pinch of pepper flakes and sauté until the onion is soft, about 10 minutes. Add the saffron and its water and the currants with their soaking liquid. Simmer gently for a couple of minutes to flavor the onion base, then add the cauliflower. Season with salt and stir to coat with the seasonings. Cover and simmer briefly to infuse the cauliflower with the seasonings, but take care not to overcook it; it should be tender but not mushy. Add a few tablespoons of the hot pasta water if the sauce looks dry. If the saffron flavor does not seem strong enough, infuse a few more threads in a little of the hot pasta water for a minute or two, then add to the skillet.

 Uncover the cauliflower and stir in the anchovies, pine nuts, and parsley. Keep warm over low heat.

 Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Set aside 1 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and return it to the warm pot over low heat. Add the sauce and toss well, moistening with some of the reserved pasta water as needed. Divide among warm bowls. Pass bread crumbs at the table for those who want them.

 Serves 4 to 6