This is what we’ve just had for dinner, or as the primo piatto to be more precise (with a flat iron steak as secondo piatto): orecchiette pasta with slow-roasted cauliflower, capers, anchovies, lemon zest, extra virgin olive oil, parsley, and pan-fried breadcrumbs. The pasta shape and using breadcrumbs (mollica di pane) are typical for the Italian region of Puglia. Slow-roasting cauliflower is not something I’ve come across in Italian recipes. The cauliflower is turned into something amazing by tossing it with olive oil and salt, and then roasting it for 2 hours at 160C/320F. I could just stop the post here and let you figure out the rest for yourself, but I did photograph all the steps, so here is the full recipe.
For 2 servings
1 cauliflower (this seems like a lot for 2 servings, but slowly roasting will reduce the volume of cauliflower by a lot)
150-200 grams (.33-.44 lb) orecchiette, or other short pasta
3 anchovy fillets, minced
1 Tbsp capers, rinsed
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 slice of stale bread
grated zest of 1 untreated lemon
1 Tbsp minced flat leaf parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
The pandemic has its advantages. Because I’m working from home, I can make this dish on a weekday. You need to start with the cauliflower 2 hours before you want to serve dinner, but it only takes a few minutes and you can get back to work while the cauliflower is slowly roasting.
Preheat the oven to 160C/320F, not fan forced.
Reduce the cauliflower to florets and put it a wide oven dish, in which the florets fit in a single layer.
Season the cauliflower with salt and drizzle with olive oil. Then toss the cauliflower until it is lightly coated with oil.
Make sure the cauliflower is in a single layer.
Roast the cauliflower at 160C/320F in the oven for 1 hour. Do not use the oven fan, because then the cauliflower will burn in the ends. After 1 hour, toss the cauliflower so it can brown more evenly.
Return the cauliflower to the oven, and roast for another hour. So the total time is 2 hours. The cauliflower will become brown, slightly crunchy, and very flavorful. It does not at all resemble boiled or steamed cauliflower, and is packed with flavor.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. When the water boils, add salt and the pasta. Cook for the time indicated on the package for al dente. In the meantime, prepare the ‘sauce’ for the pasta.
For the mollica di pane you will need stale bread. It should not be too soft, but not too dried out either. We are not looking for dried breadcrumbs. Remove the crust from a slice of bread and slice the bread into cubes. Then use a food processor to reduce to crumbs. You need about 3 tablespoons of breadcrumbs.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan. Add the breadcrumbs.
Stir over medium heat until the breadcrumbs are golden brown and very crispy. Turn off the heat.
Allow the anchovies to melt in 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan over low heat.
When the anchovies have melted, add the grated lemon zest and capers.
When the pasta is al dente, drain it, and add it to the pan with the anchovies, capers, and lemon zest. Add the parsley as well, and some more extra virgin olive oil if you like.
Add the slow-roasted cauliflower, and some freshly ground black pepper. Toss to mix.
Serve at once on preheated plates, sprinkled with the pan-fried breadcrumbs.
This is great with a full-bodied Verdicchio (not a lighter style, but a Riserva that has been aged on the lees or in used oak; not new oak).
South of Naples I enjoyed fish fillet pan fried in batter with sage. I liked this somewhat unusual combination of fish and sage very much, and so decided to prepare something similar at home. According to the menu verdure di stagione (seasonal vegetables) were included, which was runner beans tossed with olive oil. The type of fish wasn’t specified on the menu, and this will work with any white saltwater fish like cod or hake.