Sicilian Pasta with Cauliflower, a delightful combination of flavors, textures and aromas bringing together the sweetness of raisins, crunch of breadcrumbs and pine nuts and the golden color of saffron. A wonderful feast for the palate in only 30 minutes!
This pasta dish is called pasta ci vruoccoli arrimaniti in Sicilian which basically means pasta stirred with broccoli. The word broccoli here refers to both cauliflower and broccoli. There are several Italian pasta dishes that combine pasta with vegetables but you may be wondering what’s so special about this pasta and cauliflower that makes it Sicilian?
What makes this pasta dish Sicilian?
The ingredients used in this cauliflower pasta recipe, specifically the raisins, pine nuts and saffron clearly demonstrate the Arab influence on Sicilian cuisine. It is a combination that you’ll find time and time again in dishes such as Roast Chicken with Potatoes, Onions and Raisins.
The use of toasted breadcrumbs on pasta is referred to as poor man’s cheese since parmigiano was not necessarily affordable. The toasted breadcrumbs, or muddica as we call it, add a wonderful nutty flavor to the dish as well as a satisfying crunch.
This is definitely not a dish where the cauliflower retains any crispness. Italians are known for cooking their vegetables until quite soft. Here the cauliflower is boiled until tender and falls apart when combined with the pasta.
Step by Step Instructions
Begin by bringing a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, separate cauliflower into bite size florets. When the water comes to a boil, add salt and cook cauliflower until tender, 8-10 minutes. Drain with a slotted spoon and set aside. You will use this water to boil your pasta.
Soak raisins by covering with warm water in a bowl. Dissolve saffron in a bowl with 2-3 tbsp warm water. Coarsely chop the pine nuts, or leave whole if desired.
Toast breadcrumbs in a small pan with a bit of olive oil until lightly browned and crisp, 3-4 minutes. Set aside.
Bring the pot of water to a boil once again. Cook gemelli pasta, or pasta of your choice, until al dente.
While the pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a large, deep skillet. Sauté onions until soft, then add garlic and anchovy filets or anchovy paste and red pepper flakes, if using.
Add raisins, pine nuts, saffron water and the cooked cauliflower. Stir all ingredients well, breaking up the cauliflower into small pieces with a wooden spoon.
When the pasta is ready, drain and add to the skillet with the cauliflower mixture. Mix together adding pasta water as needed to create a thick sauce. Serve hot topped with crispy breadcrumbs and grated Pecorino cheese.
Tips and suggestions:
- In Sicily, bucatini pasta is typically used to make this recipe. I prefer a shorter pasta that the sauce can cling to such as gemelli (shown), penne rigate, rigatoni or cavatappi.
- Green cauliflower may be substituted for the typical white variety.
- I enjoy chunks of cauliflower in my pasta however, if you prefer a sauce with a smoother, creamier consistency cook the cauliflower for a few minutes longer in the first step.
This Sicilian cauliflower pasta will quickly become one of your favorite pasta dishes. And the best part is, you’ll have dinner ready in 30 minutes!
Let me know how much you enjoy your Sicilian Pasta with Cauliflower by sharing your wonderful photos with me on Facebook or Instagram with #mangiabedda or @mangiabedda. And feel free to Pin the recipe for later!
Check out more Sicilian pasta recipes!
- Pasta with Breadcrumbs (pasta ca’ muddica)
- Sicilian Pasta with Creamy Pistachio Sauce
- Pasta al Forno
- Sicilian Lasagna
- Pistachio Pesto Shrimp Pasta
- Sicilian Pasta with Sardines
- Anelletti al Forno with Eggplant
- Pasta alla Norma
- Homemade Sicilian Maccaruna
- Eggplant Involtini with Maccaruna
- Sicilian Pasta with Anchovies and Breadcrumbs
- Pasta with Potatoes in Tomato Sauce
- 1 head cauliflower
- 1/4 cup raisins or currants
- 1 envelope saffron
- 2 tbsp pine nuts
- 1/3 cup dry unseasoned breadcrumbs
- 2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
- 2-3 canned anchovy filets or anchovy paste (optional)
- 225 grams (1/2 lb) gemelli pasta or other short pasta such as penne rigate, rigatoni, fusilli
- Pecorino cheese for serving
- Begin by bringing a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, separate cauliflower into bite size florets. When the water comes to a boil, add salt and cook cauliflower until tender, 6-8 minutes. Drain with a slotted spoon, place in a bowl and set aside. Reserve the water to boil the pasta.
- Soak raisins by placing in a bowl and covering with warm water. Dissolve saffron in a bowl with 2-3 tbsp warm water. Coarsely chop the pine nuts, or leave whole if desired.
- Toast breadcrumbs in a small pan with a bit of olive oil until lightly browned and crisp, 3-4 minutes. Set aside.
- Bring the pot of water to a boil once again. Cook gemelli pasta, or pasta of your choice, until al dente.
- While the pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a large, deep skillet. Sauté onions until soft, then add garlic and anchovy filets or anchovy paste and red pepper flakes (optional).
- Add raisins, pine nuts, saffron water and the cooked cauliflower. Stir all ingredients together and break up the cauliflower into small pieces with a wooden spoon.
- When the pasta is ready, drain and add to the skillet with the cauliflower mixture. Mix together adding pasta water as needed to create a thick sauce. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
- Serve hot topped with crispy breadcrumbs and grated Pecorino cheese.
This sounds good, I don’t have pine nuts, can I just leave out or is there an alternative? Thank you, Veronica
Hi Veronica, if you don’t have pine nuts you may omit them or I would consider adding some chopped roasted instead. I added almonds in this recipe: https://www.mangiabedda.com/pasta-with-rapini-anchovies-and-crushed-almonds/ and they add a nice crunch and nutty flavor. Hope you enjoy it!
What is the quantity of an “envelope” of saffron? If I substitute turmeric, how much should I use?
Hi Holly, I typically purchase my saffron in small envelopes that contain 0.125 grams of saffron. I have never used turmeric in this recipe to replace the saffron but I imagine it would taste good and give this dish a wonderful color! I would probably begin by trying it with 1/2 tsp and adjust from there according to taste. Thanks for your question!
My Sicilian mom always did this recipe with a little tomato sauce. It’s one of my favorite dishes! I’m gonna try your “blanc” – will post and tag!
Hello Cathy, so many variations of this recipe for sure! I’m sure it’s good with a little tomato sauce as well. It’s delicious, quick and simple so always a favorite. Please do share your photo with me, looking forward to it. Thanks!
Jan van der Hoeden
I love it.
Thank you, so do I!
Excellent dish. My sicilian mother in law bakes it in the oven and it is sooooo good!
Hi Nina, I love the idea of baking this pasta. I think I’ll have to try that myself. Thanks for your comment!
Hi dear Nadia,
I tried with turmeric instead of safforon and I didn’t soak the raisin in warm water I directly added them to the oil once onion and garlic got cooked. It was so delicious and my husband loves a lot.
Hello Suba, I love cooking with turmeric as well and I can imagine it was just as delicious with turmeric. Thanks for sharing this with me and glad to hear your husband enjoyed it!
I was looking for ricotta & rhubarb dish- your tart is now cooling on the counter smelling amazing! Clearly, so many of your other recipes need to be tried.
Thank you! I’m so pleased that I found you!
Hello Ginger, I’m so pleased to hear that and I hope you enjoyed it! Thanks for your lovely comment, have a great day!
Nadia, Please clarify Ginger Cooke’s comment above for me. She refers to a recipe for a ricotta and rhubarb tart … it obviously does not apply to this post about cauliflower. I am interested in learning more about this tart please.
Thanks Nadia – keep up the great work!
Hi Anna, this is my recipe for Rhubarb Ricotta Almond Tart that you’ll find on my blog here: https://www.mangiabedda.com/rhubarb-ricotta-almond-tart/. Thanks again!
Looks absolutely delicious! We make something rather similar, though without the currents and saffron, or the breadcrumb topping. I’ll have to try this soon, it sounds awesome.
Thank you Frank, this recipe has become a family favorite!
The crumb topping is definitely a Sicilian thing. My sis is married to a Sicilian and learned to use the bread crumb topping on several dishes. That delightful topping goes very well on agile e oglio spaghetti. I use it in various other ways as sell. Somehow it seems to simply doctor up an ordinary recipe making it more special. I’m sure Nadia would agree.
I agree, it is quite typical in Sicilian cooking. It was originally used as a ‘poor man’s parmigiano’ since it was not always affordable. But I now like using both. I love the saltiness of the cheese and the crunch from the breadcrumbs. Thanks for your comment Anna!
Delicious and easy to make!
Indeed it is! Thanks Frank!
Another winner Nadia. You say it’s Sicilian buy my mama came from Campagnia and this is exactly how she did it. True, papa was from Reggio, Calabria, so perhaps being so close to Sicily he could well have taught her this dish. He shared a lot of the cooking chores when they first married and later still participated in kitchen duty, though not as much as when she was his bride.
I highly recommend this dish to your readers. It is hearty and warming and simply delicious!
Again, sincerest thanks for sharing and educating, hopefully future generations.
Hi Anna, I guess Reggio Calabria is close enough to my parent’s part of Sicily so I’m not surprised to hear that your mom made this dish! It’s nice to hear that your dad participated in the kitchen, that is probably not too common in men from that generation. Then again, my father had a couple of special dishes that he occasionally made as well. Thanks for the recommendation and, as always, for your generous words!