This dish — inspired by the classic Sicilian pasta con le sarde — blankets tender wedges of roasted romanesco in a sauce made of golden raisins, pine nuts, saffron and sardines. For a milder flavor, use high-quality canned tuna instead of sardines. If you prefer anchovies, use 8 fillets here, but mash them in with the tomato paste so they break down and fry in the oil. And if you’re vegan, simply omit the sardines, and the romanesco will still taste great.
If you can’t find romanesco, use the typical white or any of the orange, green or purple varieties of cauliflower instead. This dish is wonderful hot but equally delicious at room temperature once the sauce has had time to seep into all the nooks and crannies of the romanesco’s spiky florets.
Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Trim a sliver off the base of the core of the romanesco, then break off any large stems wider than your thumb (leave smaller stems and leaves intact). Cut the romanesco vertically through its core into 6 wedges, then arrange the wedges on a baking sheet. Drizzle them with 2 tablespoons olive oil and season liberally with salt and pepper. Arrange the wedges so each is lying on a flat, cut side.
Place the romanesco in the oven and roast, turning each wedge onto its other flat side once halfway through, until deep golden brown on both cut sides and a paring knife inserted in the thickest part of the core slides in and out easily, 40 to 45 minutes. After you first place the romanesco in the oven, prepare all the remaining ingredients.
After you flip the romanesco halfway through roasting, start cooking the sauce: Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until it begins to shimmer. Add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and crisp, about 3 minutes. Scrape the bread crumbs onto a small dish and let cool. Wipe the skillet clean with a paper towel, then return to medium heat.
Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil in the skillet until it begins to shimmer. Add the shallots, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and evenly golden brown, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring and smashing the paste into the shallots, until it is broken down in the oil and coating the shallots, 1 to 2 minutes.
Stir in the raisins, pine nuts and saffron, cook for 1 minute, then add the sardines, breaking each one up into 3 to 4 chunks. Stir to coat the fish in the sauce, then pour in the water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until the sauce is reduced and no longer loose and watery, 3 to 4 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat, season with more salt and pepper, and keep the sauce warm until the romanesco is ready.
Remove the romanesco from the oven and transfer the wedges to a shallow bowl or another flat serving dish that nestles them snugly in a single layer. Spoon the sardine sauce over and around the romanesco, then sprinkle with half the bread crumbs and some parsley. Serve hot or at room temperature with the remaining bread crumbs on the side.
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