Pasta chi Vruoccoli Arriminati (Sicilian Pasta with Cauliflower and Toasted Breadcrumbs) Recipe
A testament to the profound impact that centuries of North African and Spanish domination had on the island, Sicilian cuisine is renowned for its blend of savoury, sweet, and sour ingredients. Anchovies, saffron, pine nuts, raisins, and toasted breadcrumbs are pantry staples that Sicilian cooks use to create this combination of flavours. Three pasta recipes from Palermo, the region’s capital, demonstrate how these ingredients are combined: “pasta con le sarde” which is pasta with sardines, “pasta c’anciuova e muddica atturrata” which is pasta with anchovies and toasted breadcrumbs, and “pasta chi vruoccoli arriminati” which is pasta with stirred cauliflower.
For this recipe, we’re focused on pasta chi Vruoccoli Arriminati
Pasta chi Vruoccoli Arriminati is a traditional Sicilian dish made with cauliflower (the name of the recipe would make you think of “broccoli” but it is not). The word “arriminato,” which translates to “mixed,” comes from the continuous mixing that gives the sauce its creamy consistency. The distinctive element of the dish is the purposefully overdone cauliflower.
Most varieties of cauliflower will work for this dish, but pale green ones like Romanesco are best.
The cooking process
The first step involves cutting a head of cauliflower into buds, which are then simmered in salted water until they are soft enough to be crushed with a wooden spoon. Then you add them to a skillet that already contains chopped onion and anchovies gently simmering in olive oil.
Next, scoop a little of the cauliflower cooking liquid into the pan, add the usual cast of raisins, toasted pine nuts, and a pinch of saffron, and bring everything to a boil.
With a wooden spoon, begin stirring, smooshing, and tossing the florets as the sauce ingredients come to a boil. This will cause the florets to break down and allow the liquid in the pan to thicken into a thick, saucy consistency.
In the meantime, in the same boiling water used to cook the cauliflower, cook the pasta until it’s almost al dente. Finish cooking the pasta in the skillet with the sauce, stir in a few breadcrumbs for more body just before serving, and top with a final sprinkle for crunch.
For the Toasted Breadcrumbs:
- 225g bread, cut into small pieces
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
For the Pasta:
- 1 small head cauliflower, preferably green Romanesco, cut into 1- to 2-inch florets
- 60ml extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
- 5 anchovy fillets (15g)
- 2 tablespoons (30g) golden raisins
- 2 tablespoons (30g) pine nuts, lightly toasted
- Pinch saffron threads
- Pinch fennel pollen (optional)
- 12 ounces (340g) short, tubular dried pasta such as sedani or rigatoni, or long pasta such as bucatini
- 1/2 cup toasted breadcrumbs, divided
- Making the toasted breadcrumbs: Set the oven rack in the centre and heat the oven to 325°F (165°C) if using fresh or slightly stale bread. Place bread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until completely dry (if using fully stale and dried bread, skip the baking step). Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes at room temperature. Transfer the bread to the bowl of the food processor (do not clean the rimmed baking sheet; just set it aside), and pulse 8–10 times, or until the bread is reduced to small crumbs.
- In a large skillet, combine the breadcrumbs and 1 tablespoon (15 ml) oil. Cook, stirring and tossing occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are crisp and golden brown. Add salt sparingly to the dish. Toasted breadcrumbs should be moved from the skillet to the rimmed baking sheet that was set aside, spread out into an even layer, and left to cool to room temperature. After cooling, divide the toasted breadcrumbs into two equal portions (each measuring 1/2 cup or 60 grams), one for the pasta and the other for later use. Extra breadcrumbs can be kept at room temperature for up to two weeks.
- For the pasta, heat up a pot of salted water till it boils. Add the cauliflower and cook for 10 minutes at a quick simmer, turning regularly, or until the cauliflower floret pieces are completely soft and give no resistance when pierced with a paring knife at the thickest section of the stem end. While keeping the boiling water in the pot, drain the cauliflower using a spider skimmer, fine-mesh strainer, or slotted spoon. Transfer the cauliflower to a bowl or plate and set aside.
- Meanwhile, in the now-empty pan, heat 1/4 cup (60ml) oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the onion, sprinkle with a little salt, and simmer, turning often, for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the onion is tender but not browned. Anchovies should be added and cooked for about 4 minutes, stirring and breaking up anchovies as needed with a wooden spoon.
- Add cauliflower to the skillet along with 1 cup (240ml) of the cooking water that was saved, raisins, pine nuts, saffron, and fennel pollen (if using). Lightly season with salt, bring to a quick simmer over medium-high heat and cook, tossing and breaking up cauliflower with a wooden spoon until florets break down to make a rich, yellow-tinged sauce (due to the saffron), 8 to 10 minutes. To ensure there is enough liquid in the pan to encourage cauliflower to break down into a saucy consistency, add additional cooking water in 1/4-cup (60ml) increments as necessary.
- While this is going on, cook the pasta in the saved boiling water used to cook the cauliflower until it’s almost al dente (about 2 minutes less than the package directs). Transfer pasta and 1/2 cup (120ml) of the pasta boiling water to the sauce using a spider skimmer (or tongs if cooking bucatini). You can also use a colander or fine-mesh strainer to drain pasta, just be sure to set aside at least 1 cup (240 ml) of the cooking water.
- Turn the heat up to high and cook the mixture quickly while stirring and tossing until the pasta is al dente and the cauliflower has further broken down so that the sauce coats the noodles and pools around the pan’s edges, about 2 minutes. If additional pasta cooking water is required to reach the desired consistency, add it in 1/4-cup (60ml) increments.
- Remove from heat, stir in half of the breadcrumbs (about 1/4 cup), and toss to combine. The pasta should be thoroughly coated but not completely submerged in the sauce at this point. If the sauce seems too dry, add more pasta water. Distribute pasta among individual serving bowls. Top with the remaining breadcrumbs. Serve immediately.