Pasta with Cauliflower

Okay, so I’m weird. I’m one of those people to whom you can say “cauliflower” and “anchovies” and I’ll start salivating. I’ll take cauliflower any which way (though IMHO roasted is best) and anchovies? Well anchovies are one childhood prejudice (“hold the anchovies!”) I’ve happily outgrown. (Thankfully, along with my childhood anti-opera and country music sentiments, too. What is it with kids not liking things before they’ve ever tried them?)

No, the anchovies will not make this dish taste like fish, they will however give it an indescribable savoriness (umami) that will make you want to eat the whole bowl. This pasta with cauliflower recipe I’ve adapted from a recipe from my dear friend Pam in Napa who adapted it from a Sicilian recipe by Vincent Schiavelli that appeared in Saveur. It’s outrageously good; I’ve been eating the leftovers for days, which just seem to get better as the flavors have more time to meld.

Variations to this recipe include adding some toasted pinenuts or walnuts, a few raisins, and or some saffron.

Ingredients

  • 1 onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 Tbsp anchovies packed in oil, minced (about 6 anchovies)
  • Olive oil
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs*
  • 1 large head of cauliflower, core removed and discarded, florets coarsely chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 pound small elbow macaroni
  • 1 15-ounce can of whole tomatoes, chopped, or diced tomatoes, including juice
  • 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

* To make breadcrumbs, chop up about 3 slices of day old bread. Pulse in blender or food processor until you have small crumbs.

Method

1 Toast crumbs in a little olive oil in a skillet on medium high heat until lightly browned. Remove crumbs from skillet and set aside.

2 Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in the skillet on medium low heat. Add the onions, garlic, and anchovies. Crush the anchovies with the back of a spoon so that they smear well over the onions. Cook for 5 minutes, until the onions are soft. Remove from heat. While you are cooking the onions, put a large pot of salted water (1 Tbsp salt for 2 quarts of water) for the pasta on the stove to boil.

3 Heat 4 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet on medium high heat. Add the cauliflower, stir infrequently, allowing the cauliflower edges to brown. Cook until the cauliflower florets are lightly browned, 3-5 minutes. Add red pepper flakes to the pan, and salt and pepper to taste. Dissolve tomato paste in 1/2 cup of water. Lower the heat to low. Add the tomato paste, tomatoes, onion, garlic, and anchovies, stir to combine well. Cook, uncovered, on low heat, until the cauliflower is tender.

4 Cook the pasta, uncovered, in salted boiling water until just al dente, according to the pasta package's cooking directions. Drain the pasta from the cooking water and add the cooked pasta to the cauliflower mixture. Stir in about half of the parsley, breadcrumbs, and Parmesan (leave the rest for garnish on top).

Makes great leftovers as the flavors have more time to blend.

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