In Palermo, every dish is a tale, a piece of history that is all summed up in each tasty and original dish. Pasta with cauliflower and toasted crumbs is a poorer version of the better-known pasta with sardines, and it is a traditional dish that has been handed down for generations in Palermo families. Over the years there have been numerous variations and today there are a variety of versions.
In Palermo known as “Pasta alla Palina,” the name is attributed to the Pauline friars. The convent of St. Francesco di Paola stands on what, in the Middle Ages, was a small church dedicated to St. Oliva, martyr and patron saint of Palermo. Later, the church of Santa Oliva, was given to these friars who razed it to the ground and built the convent and church there, in Baroque style, where it can admire beautiful paintings and sculptures.
The friars belonging to this order, called in dialect “palines,” had the rule of poverty and an absolute ban on eating meat and its derivatives. So the friar cook thought of creating this dish, inspired by pasta with sardines but flavoring it with spices and using salted sardines instead of fresh sardines. A poor dish without meat , but where the combination of ingredients with their scents, gave birth to a new dish called “pasta palina”.
The main ingredient of this dish is not broccolo, as Sicilians call it, but cauliflower. The type of pasta used for this first course is “bucatino”, a kind of larger spaghetti but with a hole in it, cauliflower and “mollica atturrata” (toasted crumb) round out the dish. Do you know why bucatini are specifically chosen? Because they are able to accommodate all the seasoning.
Of course, the Arabic influence could not be missed, with the addition of cinnamon and cloves. This first course is so good because it combines the softness of broccoli with the crunchiness of toasted breadcrumbs.
Toasted crumb or “mollica atturrata” on top of pasta with cauliflower
Toasted and crispy crumb, in sicilian “mollica atturrata”, is a typical Sicilian product and gives dishes a special and unique taste. It is also called “the cheese of the poor”, stale bread was used in the form of grated cheese, because the poorer classes could not afford cheese. Today, this toasted crumbs has become an ingredient in refined dishes, used even by star chefs.
The word “Atturrare” means to toast (and comes from the name of the coffee roasting process). Pasta “ca’ muddica atturrata” has its roots in a poor cuisine, to which it was enough to combine breadcrumbs, anchovies in oil, tomato extract, raisins and pine nuts to create something unique. The color of the breadcrumbs should be amber, a turn of evo oil will be enough to brown it, and it should be stirred continuously to prevent burning.
This first course has several variations ranging from the choice of cauliflower, which can be white or green, to the addition of tomato and sardines to add more flavor to the dish. Some people also like to bake this pasta in the oven in order to gratin it and make it even more tasty.