Sicilian Cauliflower in Batter (Cavolfiore in Pastella alla Siciliana)
Updated: Sep 30
I should start this post by clarifying that the term "cavolfiore" (Italian for cauliflower) is hardly (if ever) used in Sicily, where instead we tend to call cauliflower...broccoli.
I know, I know, it's confusing, but let me explain.
When we say broccoli (or "vruocculi" in Sicilian) we usually mean cauliflower - in all its varieties.
The actual broccoli instead, are known by different names, usually depending on the dialect of each province or even city - for example in my hometown, Ragusa - they are called "scamuzza", whereas in other parts of Sicily are known as "sparaceddi".
So technically, a more accurate name of this dish would be Broccolo Siciliano in Pastella (in Italian) or Vruocculi na Pastedda (in Sicilian).
You are probably even more confused by my explanation now, but let's move on!
Cauliflower in batter is a crunchy and tasty side dish typical of our Sicilian tradition, a street food you'll easily find on the streets of Palermo and other main cities.
I've spoken at length before about my love for cauliflowers, and how they remind me of my nonna (grandmother). She was particularly fond of this vegetable and would make sure to always remind us how it kept away all sorts of illness!
Her pasta with vruocculi arriminati ("stirred cauliflowers") was one of her best dishes, and I should definitely share it with you one day soon.
Photo by Andrea Vaiuso on Unsplash
In this preparation, the cauliflower florets are first parboiled and allowed to rest in the fridge. This is a little trick I learned - when dipping the florets in batter while still warm/hot, they tend to release some moisture into the batter making it less crispy, so it's best to let them cool down completely, or even better, let them rest overnight in the fridge.
The batter is a simple one made by mixing water, flour and yeast. But note, every Sicilian family has its own secret recipe to making it - some use eggs and no yeast, some use sparkling water, some baking soda, some beer...there's no right or wrong.
I added some herbs, crushed fennel seeds, and lemon zest to the batter and served with slices of lemon - they are ideal as a rustic appetiser for a lunch with family or friends.
Finally, make sure you fry them in very hot oil - we normally use peanut or sunflower - until golden and crunchy.
Ingredients (for 6-8 as an appetiser or side)
1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets
500ml lukewarm water
3g dried yeast
250g plain flour
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp crushed fennel seeds
A handful of mixed fresh herbs - dill, parsley, mint - very finely minced
Salt to taste
Peanut oil for deep frying (you can replace with sunflower, canola oil)
Lemon wedges to serve
Parboil the cauliflower florets in lightly salted water - they should still be crunchy. Set aside to cool down. If you have time, parboil the cauliflower florets ahead and let them rest in the fridge overnight, or at least a couple of hours. If skipping this step, make sure you allow them to cool down completely before dipping them in the batter.
Make the batter by mixing the water, flour, yeast and salt. Cover and allow to rest in a cool, dry place until the volume has doubled (about 1 hour). Add the herbs, lemon zest and fennel seeds and mix briefly to incorporate.
Heat enough oil in a medium pot - should be wide enough to contain 5-6 florets at once, without them touching, and deep enough for them to be completely covered in oil. The oil should be very hot, about 170°C.
Dip the florets, one by one, in batter draining any excess for a few seconds, then transfer them to the hot oil. Fry in batches, until gold on all sides.
Drain on kitchen paper, sprinkle with salt and a squeeze of lemon and serve while still warm.