A basic and yet rewarding dish from Naples, almost embarrassing in its simplicity. It comes from the splendid La Cucina Napoletana, the book that is considered the bible of Neapolitan cooking, written by Mrs Jeanne Carola Francesconi in 1965 – if you read Italian, you must get it.
I long resisted cooking this, as it always did sound too elementary. Can cauliflower florets cooked with tomatoes be only few notches way from boring? I was wrong, of course: this is an excellent vegetarian dish, where the result is much more than its components. The florets are not swimming in tomato sauce, but only just lightly coated and yet deeply flavoured, due to a liberal hand with olive oil (and lard, in the original recipe, which, I suspect, gives the dish an even fuller finish). There is a little garlic in the background, but not too much, it is only one clove – just a mere suggestion, with true Italian restrain: over doing with garlic does not belong to the Italian kitchen. The finale is quite extravagant though: chopped parsley and a very generous shower of caciocavallo cheese, that most rewarding, umami-rich and almost spicy Italian cheese. I did not have it and used a mix of Parmigiano and pecorino: this worked a treat. Provolone could be an option too.
Mrs Francesconi suggests eating this hot, but I preferred to let it cool down and eat it at room temperature. Any leftovers can be chopped up and used to dress some pasta or in a frittata.
Cavolfiore al pomodoro alla napoletana (Cauliflower with tomatoes, from Naples)
1.5 kg cauliflower florets
Olive oil 75 g
Lard 75 g (I used olive oil only, 150 g in total)
1 whole clove of garlic
Plum canned tomatoes, 750 g ( 2 standards 400 g tins), well drained
Caciocavallo cheese, grated 150 g (or provolone piccante or Parmigiano and/or pecorino)
Parsley, chopped, a handful
Part-cook the cauliflower florets in salted, boiling water until still very al dente. Drain them on a towel. I think that part-cooking vegetables in (furiously boiling) salted water much improves their taste, but you can also steam them of course, If you cannot tollerate the inevitable partial loss of some nutrients that boiling entails.
Fry the garlic in the fat(s), add the cauliflower florets and let them cook for about ten minutes, at lively heat. This stage is very importante: it is called insaporire, i.e. to let things get tasty.
Lower the heat, add the drained plum tomatoes and cook for further 10 minutes or until the cauliflower is fully tender.
Add the chopped parsley, stirr well and shower the dish with the grated caciocavallo cheese. Eat now or at room temperature.
I have also tried this dish adding some chilly pepper at the beginning and it was even better: the contrast between the hot condiment and the sweet, mild cauliflower is very tasty.