mt hamar & sicilian pasta

They say Norman Wells is small. I guess with a population of 900 people, and about 3 shops it is considered a little on the small side. Fortunately we don’t need more than 900 friends. Nor do we particularly like shopping.

But we do like exploring – and Norman Wells is huge in that regard. With a mountain hovering nearby at 3500 ft, a beautiful kayaking and fishing lake, and a wide, north flowing river all on our doorstep, we are not in shortage of outdoor adventures.

Last weekend, with J out of town, I decided to summit Hamar mountain with a few friends. We headed out early (well, 10am) for a fairly leisurely, eight hour hike through bush, canyons and open faced land in order to reach the highest point in the area.

Despite the electrical storm on the summit (our hair stuck straight up!) and the torrential downpour of pea-sized hail that followed, we had a stunning view of Norman Wells, the canyons, the ranges and the surrounding communities. The rain (and fear of being electrocuted) hastened our pace down the mountain, but before long it had passed and we were able to enjoy lunch and a lie down before the trudge back to the bottom.

I can’t think of a better lunch on a day of hiking, than pasta and vegetables. Sicilian Broccoli and Cauliflower Pasta actually. With saffron (yes, we might not have fresh milk here, but we do have saffron!) and plump raisins and toasted almonds and lemon zest. Oh its good. And a marathon cookie to top it off? Perfect!

Sicilian Broccoli and Cauliflower Pasta Recipe
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks
Serves 8 – 10 as a main

1 bunch broccoli, trimmed of tough ends
1 head cauliflower, quartered, core removed
2 medium yellow onions, sliced 1/4 inch, lengthwise
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
A generous pinch of saffron threads
A generous pinch of red pepper flakes, more to taste
olive oil as needed
2 tablespoons golden raisins, plumped in warm water, drained
1/2 cup lightly toasted slivered almonds
1/4 cup fresh chopped coriander
1/4 – 1/2 cup crumbled feta
Freshly grated Parmesan, to taste
kosher salt, to taste
1 pound dried pasta – I used orecchiette, penne or spirals would work well too (cooked al dente, according to package directions)

Cut the broccoli into small florets. Using the stems, chopped finely, is fine – it might help the peel the tough outer skin. Cut cauliflower into similar sized pieces as the broccoli.

Heat a large heavy saute pan or skillet over moderate heat. (The pan should be large enough to hold the broccoli in a couple of layers, but not heaping/spilling out of the pan.) When the pan is hot add a generous splash of olive oil and all the broccoli. Turn the heat up to high and add a generous amount of salt. It’s important to get the seasoning in the broccoli from the start, otherwise it will be bland, taste broccoli about halfway through cooking. Stir-fry the broccoli until it is tender and browned in spots, adding more oil if needed and taste for salt. This can take about 10 minutes. Set aside broccoli (drain off excess oil if you wish)

Cook the cauliflower in the same pan, in the same manner. If the pan isn’t too brown, just go straight ahead and add some oil and throw in the cauliflower. If it is too brown, rinse the pan and proceed with the recipe. Again, initial seasoning is important, so taste for salt about halfway through cooking. Add the cauliflower to the broccoli.

Using the same pan (rinse if needed), cook the onions in olive oil over moderate heat. When the onions begin to soften add the garlic, saffron, hot pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt. Be careful not to let the garlic burn. Cook mixture until the onions are tender but not brown, about 5 minutes. The onions will turn a vivid yellow from the saffron. Set aside.

Drain the pasta and add the broccoli, cauliflower, the saffron-onion mix, raisins, and half of the almonds and coriander. Stir to combine, adding some pasta water to the mixture. At this stage you can serve as is, refrigerate until serving, or return to the heat for a warm salad. Taste for seasoning and top with remaining coriander, almonds and a generous handful of Parmesan.

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