If there is one thing our recent, late summer trip to Italy taught us, it’s that Italian cuisine is much more rich, varied and expansive than most of us here on the other side of the pond realize. While there is some truth to the north-south Italian divide, with simple tomato-based, produce-driven peasant food in the south and the opulent, rich, creamy, seafood and meat dishes from the wealthier north, there is also a unique culinary point of view that emerges at the country’s edge, on the island of Sicily.
Only 90 miles from North Africa and through a series of historical invasions, Sicilian cuisine developed distinct Moorish influences. Those influences are reflected in this seemingly simple pasta, which really carries layers of flavor, developed by the use of citrus, spice and nuts. The resulting dish is a typical Sicilian flavor profile of sweet and sour, spicy and salty,…east meets west.
In this particular preparation, roasting the cauliflower brings out it’s sweet and nutty flavor. Combining the sun-dried tomatoes and lemon help to lift and brighten the dish. Almond butter affectionately complements the nuttiness of the cauliflower and provides the much needed creaminess that is lacking when cheese is omitted. Enjoy!
Yield: 2-3 servings
5 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp chili flakes (adjust to desired level of spiciness)
1 head cauliflower, heads removes, cut into chunks
6 dehydrated sun-dried tomatoes
11/2 tbsp raw almond butter
1/2 lemon, juiced
3/4 lb whole wheat penne
3/4 cup grated pecorino cheese (optional)
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts or walnuts
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 deg F.
In a 9×11 baking dish add the cauliflower and toss with 3 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper. Place in the oven and roast for 10 minutes. Toss and continue roasting an additional 5-10 minutes until cauliflower is golden brown. Remove and set aside.
Meanwhile, In a large bowl pour 2 cups boiling water on the sun-dried tomatoes and allow to re-hydrate for 5 minutes. Remove from bowl, reserving the liquid, and let cool a few minutes. Chop the sun-dried tomatoes finely, almost to a paste, and set aside.
Bring water to boil in a large pot, add the pasta, and cook till al dente.
Meanwhile, in a large sauce pan, on medium heat, add 2 tbsp olive oil. Add the shallot, garlic and red pepper flakes and let cook a few minutes until fragrance is released and shallots are soft. Add the roasted cauliflower and sun-dried tomatoes.
Add the pasta and to the sauce pan. Next, add the almond butter and lemon juice and toss until the almond butter is resolved into the pasta. Season with salt and pepper. Finally, add a few spoons of the reserved sun-dried tomato waster to the pasta if it is a bit dry. Garnish with the nuts and pecorino cheese if desired. Serve Immediately.