As the warmer months become a thing of the past, and we move into fall/winter, Italian dishes change like our wardrobe. Eating what’s fresh and local isn’t a trend but a simple way of living. “Bastaddu affucatu” is a simple delicious cauliflower dish that can be used as a vegetarian entree or a side dish with cold weather meals.
As the name signifies, bastaddu affucatu is “drowned” with wine and cooked slowly as a braise. Think about affogato, the more commonly known hot espresso poured over a scoop of gelato.
Mainly in the city of Catania, but in all of the surrounding areas of Mount Etna in Sicily, you’ll find mountains of these beautiful vibrant purple cauliflowers piled high in the markets. The veg get their deep purple color from “anthocyanins” which are natural pigments in plants that commonly grow in mineral-rich soils like volcanic earth. It makes sense that you would find purple veg around Etna! It’s the same thing that gives a deep blue, purple, or black color to pistachio skins, purple cauliflower or kohlrabi.
Bastaddu Affucatu, Sicilian purple cauliflower recipe
1 purple cauliflower, or substitute a white/yellow/green cauliflower
2 spring onions, or 4 scallions
1 cup red wine, nero d’avola works well
Aged pecorino cheese, grated
Black olives, pitted
Currants or raisins
3 filleted oil-cured anchovies, optional
Extra virgin olive oil
Sicilian sea salt
Prep the vegetables and keep them separated; this dish will be assembled in tightly-packed layers in a baking dish. The cauliflower can be cut into small florets or thinly sliced to include a bit of the flower and a bit of the tender stems. The scallions or spring onions should be sliced thinly and the cheese can be grated or shredded so it can sprinkle easily in between each layer.
Coat the bottom of a stovetop-safe baking dish or sauté pan with a drizzle of high-quality extra virgin olive oil. Every ingredient is important in simple recipes like this. Start by creating a tightly-packed single layer of cauliflower on the bottom. Keep them as flat as you can and try to fill up as much space as you can in a single layer. Sprinkle the top with a few broken pieces of anchovy, chopped onion, currants, and olives. Keep an eye on the saltiness of this dish because many of the ingredients have a high salt content so you might need to season with pepper but according to your taste, maybe just skip the sea salt altogether. Season the layer evenly with cracked black pepper and a tablespoon or two of grated cheese. Continue with another layer of cauliflower and press each piece down to help form the cake shape. Season this layer the same way and repeat a third or even fourth time depending on how much cauliflower you can fit in regards to the size of your pan. Finish with a plain layer of cauliflower; it’s best that you do not put cheese on the very top layer since we will push it down with a weighted plate during cooking.
When the layers are assembled, drizzle the top with another glug of extra virgin olive oil and all of the red wine. Place an upside down plate on top of the cauliflower and make sure it fits snugly inside the pan. With a heavy pan or even a pot filled with water, place something heavy on top of the plate to hold down the veggies.
Light the burner and bring to a boil until you smell beautiful aromas and hear the wine bubbling in the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook for approximately 20-30 minutes until the layers of cauliflower braise in the red wine broth.
Let it rest before serving and remove any extra liquid by tipping the pan to the side and pouring out any extra wine that might not have been evaporated during cooking. Flip the baking pan upside down onto a plate to serve. Finish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and serve warm or at room temperature.
The Cheeky Chef, Linda Sarris was raised in a big Greek-American family with a Chef grandfather, a fisherman Dad and a kitchen full of women who loved to cook. After a career in book publishing and a secret night-school culinary degree, she ran away to Sicily with a scholarship to work for a farm-to-table cooking school. She has worked as a fishmonger at Eataly, consulted for a restaurant in Romania, cooked for a Tuscan winery and underground supper clubs in New York. With a home base in Brooklyn, Linda works as a private chef and often travels to Italy for freelance jobs like her new project SNACK, a chef’s guide to Sicilian food/wine.