This year I had the pleasure of attending the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen for the very first time. Within minutes of landing in Aspen, I knew it wouldn’t be my last! This stunning mountain community absolutely took my breath away. (Literally! We were up at nearly 8,000 feet above sea level.)
It was a whirlwind weekend of gastronomic excitement. There were tastings and demonstrations, celebrity chef sightings, and, of course parties! I walked away from the events with stunning photos, great memories, and a few recipes to share.
KitchenAid was one of the event sponsors, and their impeccable appliances were prominently displayed throughout the demonstration kitchens. When I saw that Mario Batali would be speaking about Sicilian cuisine, I knew I had to be there. I fell in love with Sicily after visiting last year, and I couldn’t wait to see how Mario would capture the flavors of the island.
Chef Batali is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge on Italian cuisine. He even posted a map of Sicily on the stage and pointed out different regions as he spoke with authority. Whether it is a single ingredient or an iconic Italian dish, he always has an interesting fact or takeaway tip to share. I love hearing him speak, because he savors every descriptive word as we salivate over the thought of a taste.
In this demonstration he wanted to highlight the lighter, vegetable-based side of Italian food. He began with a simple appetizer or side dish that instantly captured my attention. Chef Batali pulled out a whole head of cauliflower, pulled back the leaves and began grating it into a coarse meal with a box grater. Why had I never ventured beyond cutting cauliflower into florets? I thought this was a genius way to incorporate more vegetables into a recipe and I can’t wait to try this technique in other dishes.
He combined the grated cauliflower with garlic, scallions, fresh ricotta, eggs, lemon zest, a bit of baking powder, salt and pepper; then he just added a bit of flour to bind it all together. I love Mario Batali’s recipes because they always have an air of simple sophistication. If you can make pancakes, then you can make this authentic Sicilian dish.
As much as I didn’t want to leave Aspen, I couldn’t wait to get home to try and recreate Mario’s dish in my own kitchen. His recipe calls for the Cauliflower Griddle Cakes to be pan fried in a shallow pool of olive oil, but I decided to use a little less oil and made them using the griddle attachment on my KitchenAid® 5-Burner Gas Freestanding Double Oven Range. It worked like a charm and made for very easy clean up.
I made one other slight change to Mario’s version of the recipe. He topped the griddle cakes with grated ricotta affumicata, a smoked version of ricotta salata. (There were audible “ooh’s” and “ahh’s” from the audience when he finished the dish with this mouth-watering flourish.) This ingredient can be difficult to find in most American grocery stores, so I decided to make a small substitute and grate some Parmesan cheese on top of my version.
Try making this recipe at home for a taste of Sicily by way of Aspen!
Cauliflower Griddle Cakes
Makes 12 servings
Adapted from the recipe demonstrated by Mario Batali at the 2013 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen
1 medium cauliflower, leaves removed
2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
4 scallions, very thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh sheep’s-milk ricotta
2 large eggs
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon baking powder
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or as needed
1/2 pound piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Lemon wedges, for serving
Grate the raw cauliflower on a box grater into small pieces.
In a large bowl, combine the cauliflower, garlic, scallions, ricotta, eggs, lemon zest, baking powder and 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Stir well, then stir in flour until just incorporated.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a sauté pan or on flat top griddle. Working in batches, add 2-tablespoon mounds of the cauliflower batter to the hot oil, spreading them to form 3-inch fritters. Fry over moderately high heat, turning once, until browned and crisp, about 3 minutes. Continue with remaining olive oil and batter.
Transfer fritters to serving plate, grate the Parmigiano-Reggiano over them and serve right away with lemon wedges.