When longtime restaurateur Tomaso Maggiore talks about the food he grew up eating in Sicily, you can hear the love and passion in his voice.
Today, he shares a favorite family recipe from his youth: pasta with cauliflower saffron, pine nuts and currants. “My mother used to make this. It’s also one of the staple recipes of the province of Palermo, Sicily,” he says. Maggiore offers a couple of important tips: Save the cauliflower water and use it for cooking the pasta to infuse more flavor; and be sure to include the saffron. “It’s expensive, but worth it.”
Cavatappi with Cauliflower Saffron, Pine Nuts and Currants
1 large cauliflower, about 2 lbs., cut into small florets
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 large onion, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ cup dry white wine
1 lb. cavatappi pasta
Large pinch of saffron threads, toasted, ground and then soaked in a few tablespoons of warm water
½ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
½ cup dried currants, soaked in warm water for 5 minutes and drained
Leaves from 2-3 small fresh dill springs, minced
1 cup grated pecorino Toscano or pecorino Romano cheese
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Generously salt the boiling water and blanch the cauliflower florets for 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer them to a colander, reserving the cooking water. Run cold water over the cauliflower to stop the cooking. Drain well.
In a large frying pan over medium heat, warm the ½ cup olive oil.
Add the onion and sauté until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the blanched cauliflower, salt and black pepper to taste and cayenne and sauté until tender and well coated with oil, about 2 minutes. Add the white wine and let it boil away.
Bring the cauliflower cooking water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until dente, 8-11 minutes.
Reduce the heat to low under the frying pan, add the saffron, and simmer for 1 minute to blend flavors.
Drain the pasta, reserving about ½ cup (4 fl. oz.) of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the frying pan. Add the pine nuts currants, and a few tablespoons of the pasta water to loosen the sauce, if needed. Toss briefly, just to blend. Pour the pasta into a warmed large, shallow bowl and add the dill, 2 heaping tablespoons of the grated cheese, and drizzle of olive oil. Toss to mix. Pass the remaining cheese at the table.
Makes four main course servings or six first course servings.