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Pasta with Cauliflower, Anchovy and Chickpeas

If there is one thing I would like some people to learn about Italian food, it would be to learn to like garlic less. Some Americans have this odd vision of what Italian food means: if one garlic clove is great, four or five must be better. To me, that is a caricature of the cuisine. The attitude that “more is better” suffers from a disease of excess. “More” is not better; it is simply “more”.

If you’ve never had roasted cauliflower before, you’re in for a treat. Roasting caramelizes the vegetable’s sugars and brings out its sweetness while accentuating its vegetal flavors. Onions cooked slowly in olive oil until they’re golden brown forms the base of this Sicilian-inspired sauce, to which are added chopped anchovies, saffron and currants. There’s nary a garlic clove in sight, and what’s more, the sauce doesn’t need it.

Pasta with cauliflower, anchovy and chickpeas

Pasta with cauliflower, anchovy and chickpeas

Pasta with Cauliflower, Anchovy and Chickpeas

1 cup dried chickpeas
kosher salt
1 bay leaf
1/2 medium-sized head cauliflower, broken up into bite-sized pieces and florets
5 tablespoons olive oil + more for garnish
freshly milled black pepper
1/4 cup currants
1 cup water
3-4 saffron threads
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 anchovy fillet
4 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1/2 lb. dried pasta such as spaghetti or penne

Pick over chickpeas, put them in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Soak for at least 8 hours, preferably overnight. Drain chickpeas (they should have swelled considerably) and put them in a soup pot. Cover with water and add the bay leaf. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower heat and let chickpeas simmer gently. Skim any foam that rises to the surface. Cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until chickpeas are tender. If chickpeas seem to be drying out during cooking, add 1/2 cup water to keep them submerged in liquid. Taste for salt and leave chickpeas to cool in the broth (cooking liquid). Discard the bay leaf. The chickpeas may be cooked a day in advance, if desired.

You should have about 2 cups cooked chickpeas and roughly half that amount of chickpea broth. You will be using 1/2 cup cooked chickpeas and 1/2 cup chickpea broth for this recipe. Reserve the rest of the chickpeas for another use, such as hummus. (Incidentally, that will be a post in a couple of days. I can’t believe I’ve had this food blog for nearly eight years already and I’ve never made homemade hummus until now.) Reserve the remaining chickpea broth for use in stocks, soups, sauces, pasta and rice.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 F.

Place the cauliflower in a bowl, along with 3 tablespoons olive oil, a pinch of kosher salt and a generous grind of black pepper. Mix well, tossing the cauliflower until the pieces and florets are coated with oil. Spoon the cauliflower onto a roasting pan or Pyrex baking dish. Roast the cauliflower at 350 F for 30 to 45 minutes. Take the pan out every fifteen minutes or so and stir the cauliflower around with a long-handled wooden spoon. The cauliflower is done when it’s tender and golden brown. It’s okay if the cauliflower has some overly browned ends as shown in the pic.

Roasted cauliflower

Bring 1 cup of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the currants and the saffron. Let sit, covered, for 15-20 minutes. Lift out the currants with a slotted spoon and place in a small bowl or ramekin. Set aside.


Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil. By “lightly salted”, I mean that when you taste the water, it should have a slightly salty taste. Figure 1/2 tablespoon salt per quart of water. Prepare the pasta according to package directions. Cook until al dente. Drain. Ideally, this step should be done while you’re preparing the sauce.

Warm the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden brown. This step will take about 15-20 minutes. Towards the end of the cooking time, add the anchovy to the pan. Mash the anchovy fillet with the back of a wooden spoon. The anchovy will disintegrate into the sauce. Add the chickpeas, currants and Italian parsley. Cook for 4-5 minutes or until the chickpeas are warmed through. If at any point in time the chickpea/onion mixture seems too dry, add a little chickpea broth to the pan, tablespoon by tablespoon until you achieve a light brothy consistency. Taste for salt and pepper.

Add the cooked pasta to the skillet. Toss a few times. Remove from heat, then serve at once. Drizzle each serving with a little olive oil, if desired.

This recipe is sized for 2 people.

Time: About 1 hour and 15 minutes, not including prep or the time it takes to cook the chickpeas from scratch.


8 replies »

  1. Love this! Couldn’t agree more with the misconceptions about Italian food too, here in the UK people seem to have mountains of sauce with their pasta, if you served them pasta like this so many people would think you were mad but I love it!


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