Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Cauliflower, Raisins, and Pasta?

Pasta with cauliflower, raisins and breadcrumbs!! 
If Grandmom is in my head, she's in my kitchen. Actually, she's been gone for quite some time, but once in a while I get a taste for something she made and don't know if I actually remember how she did it, or, remember someone's version of what she did. Make sense?  But in this case, I was drawing a blank. I knew the two main ingredients were cauliflower and raisins, but totally stumped on the assembling order.  I kind of remember it being a Spring dish. Could be that she made it during lent since there is no meat involved? And I'm not strong on making tomato sauce without meat for flavoring. It's why Italians call it gravy! But I'll persevere!

"Keep it simple, stupid", a writer friend jokingly said recently.(I think she was joking...) anyway, she was right. This recipe at its core is simple, so I simply had to find someone who might remember having this, or better yet, making it. So, of course, I travel to Italy (through Twitter) to my great Italian recipe source, Francis Mayes. You might remember her as the author of  "Under the Tuscan Sun" and a number of other wonderful novels and cookbooks! Francis was very helpful in my search for the "Bread Soup" recipe that I fell in love with while staying in Tuscany. She has graciously helped throughout the last few years in so many other ways as well.

Simmering sauce with raisins!
Once I described what I was looking for, she replied, "I remember having something very similar to that while vacationing in Sicily." Of course she did, Grandmom was born and raised on the island of Sicily, in the Palermo region! So, as Francis advised, I looked up "cui vroccoli arriminati", pasta with cauliflower. I found a few close versions, but all with a lot more ingredients than I remember. Along with raisins and cauliflower, most also called for pine nuts, anchovies and saffron. I have learned that "melting" anchovies into hot olive oil is a great way to add saltiness without adding sodium to recipes, so I will keep that trick for the meatless sauce, but will nix the pine nuts and saffron (as if I could afford that last item).
Cee Jay & Beth knew how!

Grandmom knew how!
Another problem with advanced Italian recipes is that they are measured in grams, not ounces, which is a problem for me since I can barely see the red lines on any of my measuring cups. As "keep it simple, stupid," swirled in my head, I decided to merge recipes with recall! Where was I when I last had this wonderful mixture of savory and sweet? It had to be with a family member who remembered Grandmom standing at the stove, wooden spoon in hand....then, a light bulb moment! A few years ago, my brother Cee Jay, and his wife Beth, made this recipe while I was staying with them in Florida. Cee Jay is older than me, so he knew Grandmom before I did, and, he is the lover of all foods Italian! (Seriously, he could eat it every night!) Of course, he would remember this! And he did!

This started a frenzy of phone calls and texts. "When do I do this, when do I add that?" And guess what? It is really simple to do! Took a look:
  1. Make favorite red sauce. (If you cheat here and purchase store bought sauce, splurge and make quality count.)
  2. Clean and chop medium-size head of cauliflower, par-boil in salted water. (Reserve the water!)
  3. Remove cauliflower pieces with slotted spoon and add to simmering sauce for about 30 minutes. 
  4. Then, add at least 1.5 cups of raisins (or more or less to your liking) and let simmer another 20 minutes or so. 
  5. Cook pasta in reserved cauliflower water (this suggestion came from every recipe I found from the Sicilian versions and is key for flavoring). Drain pasta and cover with sauce mixture. 
  6. This next step is what makes this dish so flavorful. Melt 2 Tbls. of butter in frying pan, add 1 cup of bread crumbs, and brown. 
  7. Sprinkle toasted breadcrumb over each plate of pasta. 
  8. Add sprinkling of good quality Parmesan cheese - Locatelli is my favorite!
So, after all the head banging, all the research, all of the thinking and re-thinking of this incredibly easy recipe, the result was wonderful. On a recent cold Sunday evening, I let a little bit of spring in and made my Grandmother's cauliflower and raisin pasta. A glass of wine,a few friends, and a warm fire made everything perfect.

There is, however, something I am a little worried about. After my exhaustive search, and after excitingly remembering that my brother and sister in-law had made this for me a few years earlier,  I just had to ask them where they got the recipe. They replied in unison..."you."

May be cutting back on the wine with dinner. Just saying...


  1. Love the way you told the story! As for the dish, the raisins seem a little strange to me but I think I'll try it out anyway. Thanks.

  2. Don't ignore the raisins. They are always a plump surprise when biting down! Thanks for reading!