The March 2023 edition of Dolce Vitality, Le Sirenuse’s twice-yearly fitness retreat, has just come to an end. Blessed with mild spring weather, it was a glorious week when a group of guests from as far afield as Singapore and Iceland conquered the high mountain trails above Positano, were guided through restorative yoga and pilates sessions – and enjoyed a delicious daily menu of low-calorie, gluten-free dishes devised by health coach Valentina Dolci and executive chef Gennaro Russo, one that is rooted in the Mediterranean diet and the abundant, healthy seasonal produce of the Amalfi Coast.
Only a score of Dolce Vitality guests in March and November get to experience first-hand these dishes as prepared by Gennaro and his kitchen team – but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t try making them yourselves. It’s in this spirit that we present this Dolce Vitality standard.
It’s a filling dish that was invented by Valentina and Gennaro by matching a need with a discovery. The need, the chef explains, was “to create some dishes that give the retreat’s guests the illusion that they’re eating carbs like pasta or rice”. And the discovery was that when tossed into a mouli or blender, cauliflower florets can be reduced to small fragments that resemble grains of rice.
These were perfect, Gennaro realized, for making a risotto-like dish in which cauliflower grains take the place of the rice in a rice salad. Note that although this is designed to serve four people, we’ve gone overboard on the pesto because it’s pointless making a small amount of something so delicious, and it will keep for weeks in the fridge
CAULIFLOWER ‘RICE’ WITH PESTO OF SUN-DRIED TOMATOES AND ALMONDS
4 small to medium cauliflowers (around 1.8kg in total, around 4lbs)
100g (3½oz) sundried tomatoes
115g (4oz) almonds
85ml (3fl.oz) olive oil
a handful of basil leaves
First, with a sharp knife, trim the top layer of florets off from all around the cauliflowers. You’re aiming to take off no more than 1cm, less than half an inch. Throw the florets into a food mixer and mouli until they have been reduced to a grit with the consistency of very small gravel or large grains of sand. Put aside.
Dry-roast 100g (3½oz) of the almonds in a pan on a medium to high heat until they take on colour. Chop them finely (you’ll get better results with almonds in pesto, Gennaro says, if you let a knife do most of the work, rather than the mouli blade).
Put the chopped almonds, sundried tomatoes and olive oil in a blender and whizz until you have a paste which has the granular but spreadable texture of basil pesto. You can use either dry-packed or oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes. In the latter case you will probably need to reduce the amount of oil you add to make the pesto, as even if you drain them well, some oil from the jar will remain.
Take a wide, heavy-bottomed saucepan, throw in a generous spiral of oil and set on a lively heat. When the oil is hot, add the cauliflower ‘rice’, season with salt and pepper, and toss for 5 or 6 minutes, stirring every so often. Lower the heat and cover the lid to allow the build-up of steam that will soften the cauliflower grains (you could also use a very little vegetable stock for this purpose).
After a minute or so, taste: you’re aiming for a pleasantly al dente effect, nothing too soft or soggy. When the desired texture has been achieved, turn off the heat, and spoon in some pesto – if you made the quantity recommended here, you probably need between half and two-thirds. (The rest can be used another day on pasta, as a sandwich spread, as a condiment for cheese…)
Serve topped with the basil leaves and the remaining almonds you set aside, chopped thinly and lightly toasted.
Le Sirenuse Newsletter
Stay up to date
Sign up to our newsletter for regular updates on Amalfi Coast stories, events, recipes and glorious sunsets