I have been reading the book The Everlasting Meal . The thing about The Everlasting Meal is that it has me thinking a lot about my approach to the kitchen. It resonates a lot. Yet, Tamar discusses a very Mediterranean-Italian approach to food so there are differences. I have been discussing her book with my Italian friends, and discovering more and more secrets. Like this one — and it amazes me that this is not general knowledge in Australia, given that we have adopted so much of the Italian approach to food here. Italian in Australia is like Indian in the UK.
One of her pieces of advice is to use cooking water over and over again, cooking from the least starchy to the most starchy. It sounds sensible, doesn’t it, yet even in my childhood home which must have been one of the most frugal around, even in my Grandmother’s home where all the water came from the farm dam, we did not do this.
It is like a revelation.
Not only does it help with taste, it is also the wonderful salty water that is reused and reused. (Tamar is not afraid of salt, such a refreshing change!)
So following her advice, I cooked pasta in the cauliflower water.
Pasta with a Cauliflower Sauce
For two people, cook 1/4 of a large and beautiful cauliflower, or 1/2 of a medium one, in salted water until soft but not mushy. It must be soft. Crispy cooked cauliflower will not work for pasta sauce. Remove the cauliflower with a slotted spoon, leaving the cooking liquid in the saucepan.
While it is cooking, slice some garlic, about 2 very large cloves, lengthwise and deep fry them in oil until crispy. This sauce needs a little texture, and the garlic gives both texture and flavour.
You can do this in the morning, or the night before, if you wish. If so, let the cauliflower cool on the kitchen bench. If it is more than 5 or 6 hours till you cook the pasta, you might like to put the cauliflower in the fridge. Otherwise it will be Ok on the bench.
If the cauliflower has been in the fridge, remove it about an hour before cooking begins if you can, so that it can return to room temperature. It is not absolutely necessary but nice if you have the time.
At the right time, check the cooking stock for saltiness – you might like to add a little more salt for the pasta – and top it up with water if you need more. Cook the pasta according to directions – it can be your choice of pasta – AND, this part is important, warm the cauliflower. I do this by placing the bowl in a steamer that fits on top of the saucepan over the top of the cooking pasta. If you really must, you can heat it gently until warm not boiling hot, in the microwave.
Then place the warmed cauliflower in a bowl and drizzle with very good olive oil and some freshly ground black pepper. Add some cooked dried beans – chickpeas are very good, borlotti beans, cannellini beans are all good choices. Just a couple of tablespoons or more. Add some pitted olives, halved, green or black. A couple of capers but only a few. Pour over a small ladleful of the water from the top of the cooking pasta. Put in a fist full of chopped parsley. Finally add the crispy garlic.
You want the sauce to be wet. If you dare, it can even be the smallest bit soupy – quite a foreign concept in this country but not in others. I like this pasta sauce to be quite wet, but suit your own tastes.
When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain and add to the sauce. Drizzle again with good olive oil. Add grated Parmesan cheese liberally, and serve.