I always love going to the market in Monopoli, where I live. On one level I feel at home, the stall holders know me and call out hello and the staff in Caffe Roma on the corner of the market square (the best ice cream in Puglia) know that I want a double coffee, still water and a cornetto (pastry not ice cream!) with apricot jam. In another way it makes me feel like I am permanently on holiday, the calls of the vendors still seem quaint, the colour and freshness of the vegetables exceptional, the setting beautiful in a way that says ‘you are in Italy’.
Today was no exception but it has to be said, despite the fact that I can wax lyrical about the importance and joys of eating seasonal produce with the best of them, that January is not the most inspiring month to vegetable shop… There are vivid green cime di rape, but I am by now slightly bored with those, clementines, oranges, ditto. The lettuces look gorgeous but I want something heartier…
Ah!! Cauliflower! At this point I wouldn’t blame you for switching off – nothing exotically Mediterranean about those.. Saying that you can also get pale green ones here probably doesn’t cut it either..But in Puglia, as elsewhere in the south of Italy ‘l’arte di arrangiarsi’ (making do, in the most creative way possible) reigns.
There are a few variations of pasta with cauliflower, all of them surprisingly delicious, and I am not even a big cauliflower fan. Do try one even if you are not either – both variants given here include ingredients with strong flavours, the cauliflower adds an interesting texture
To make my favourite version (for 4) you will need…
A small, fresh cauliflower, two cloves garlic, peperoncino (one or two chopped depending how hot they are or a generous teaspoon of dried fom a jar), 3 or four sun dried tomatoes, 500gms short pasta such as penne or fusilli or else orecchiette, olive oil. You can use four or five chopped fresh cherry tomatoes instead if they have any flavour.
The more usual version calls for a handful of fine breadcrumbs, ‘toasted’ in a dry pan till golden brown, garlic, peperoncino, anchovy fillets, black olives, parsley
They both have a basic premise – you cut the cauliflower into florets, and cook it in the same water as the pasta… This seems to me a risky process – you want the cauliflower soft but still slightly firm, not a school dinner watery mush. It works equally well cooking the cauliflower to the right consistency and reserving the water to cook the pasta… So cook the cauliflower, remove it with a slotted spoon and set it aside. Leave the pan on the heat and let the water come back to boiling before adding the pasta.
In version one you then add finely chopped garlic and peperoncino to a generous amount of hot olive oil, ideally in a wok style frying pan or, alternatively, a shallow, wide saucepan. Don’t allow the garlic to go brown or burn. Then add the chopped fresh or sun dried tomatoes .Version two you add chopped anchovies instead. Cook it all together for five minutes or so
You then add the well-drained cauliflower, stirring initially and then using the back of a wooden spoon to squash the cauliflower so that it almost breaks down. At this point add the olives if you are using them.
When your pasta is cooked al dente, add it to the pan and mix it all together well, over the heat, adding the breadcrumbs and some finely chopped parsley at the end…
For market visists, cookery lessons and all things Pugliese for foodies see www.personalpuglia.com