Cavolfiori al pomodoro alla napoletana (Cauliflower with tomatoes, from Naples)










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)
6-8 portions
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.




13 thoughts on “Cavolfiori al pomodoro alla napoletana (Cauliflower with tomatoes, from Naples)

  1. This does sound nice, indeed! I haven’t tried it yet, but I will do. With the lard, because why not? Hard to go wrong with Francesconi. I’d be curious to hear more about your views on boiling vs steaming. I hadn’t given it much thought, but I was intrigued by the thought that boiling improves the flavor.


    1. Good lard would work a treat (I am going through a no-meat period)/on boiling: I think that done correctly:lots of hevily salted water, quickly + everything refreshed in icy water: best method (but it is a rather cumbersome process, I agree)/


    2. hi Frank: when I say boiling, I mean in rather heavily salted water, at furious boiling (for greens especially, potatoes are another game: very gentle simmering) + shock in icy water and thorough draining…
      I prefer the fuller flavour that salting beforehand gives, plus the colour issue, that I still find rather important, even if I am not cooking professionally any more..


  2. Cauliflower is abundant here now, and I can’t wait to try this (senz’aglio, of course). And thanks for your mention of overdoing garlic. Even when I could eat it, it bothered me that people overused it…

    I wish I read Italian better, but I am working my way through La Cucina Napoletana bit by bit. And, like you, we are trying to eat more vegetarian meals. Not solely, but it seems a good idea.


    1. ciao Jo
      I guess that with all that oil and sugna + caciocavallo.. everything is delicious… kidding: I would not call myself a fan of cauliflower, unless bather in butter, béchamel, cheese.. but this one, especially at room temperature, was pretty good. Francesconi has few recipes with cauliflower and they all looked good (couple of weeks ago I made Hazan’s fried cauliflower, with a a parmesan, batter and…. to die for actually!!)


      1. io proprio alla versione piccantina miravo! Bel tocco.
        Oh, prova quel tortino super di Ottolenghi, lo trovi anche nel mio blog, sono certa che ti piacerà e anche a chi è interessato all’aspetto dark-piccantino
        del trattare il cavolfiore.


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