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.

Pasta with Cauliflower Recipe

  • Yield: Serves 4.

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



  • 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.


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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Sicilian Broccoli and Cauliflower Pasta from Heidi of 101 Cookbooks
Pasta with oven roasted butternut squash, cauliflower, sundried tomatoes, and parsley from Ilva of Lucullian Delights
Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower, Figs, and Mint from Debbie of Words to Eat By
Pasta with cauliflower, walnuts, and feta from Deb of Smitten Kitchen
Spinach fettucine with cauliflower and bacon from Blue Kitchen

View Comments / Leave a Comment


  1. DK

    I am skipping the anchovies to make it vegetarian!

    You may want to double up on the Parmesan if you do that. ~Elise

  2. Martalee

    I have a can of sardines I’ve been wanting to use. Any idea if they would work here in place of the anchovies?

    No, you cannot replace anchovies with sardines. Not even close. ~Elise

  3. Susan @ SGCC

    I slip anchovies in all kinds of dishes for that same reason. Even the die hard anchovy haters can’t tell.

    I make a pasta dish almost identical to this except without the tomatoes. I use white wine or broth instead. I’ll have to give the tomatoes a try next time. It looks wonderful!

  4. Madhuram

    Hi Elise, it’s my first time here. Roasted cauliflower and cauliflower in general is my favorite too. Being an Indian, I usually add curry powder while roasting it. This dish looks very simple to make. I too am a vegetarian, so will increase the quantity of Parmesan cheese.

    Actually cauliflower and broccoli are my son’s favorite vegetables. I think when parents show dislike for certain foods in front of their kids, they also pick it up easily.

  5. Rivka

    Made something just like this a week or so back, but used broccoli instead of cauli. Totally agree that flavors only improve as they continue to get acquainted.

  6. Susan

    This recipe sounds dee-vine! Have you seen or tried Jamie Oliver’s recipe for whole cauliflower cooked in a lovely tomato sauce (with onions, garlic, anchovies and kalamatas!) ~ yumm.

  7. Hannah

    Ooh that looks delicious. Have you tried cauliflower, pasta and blue cheese? That’s another good combination.

    Haven’t tried that combination yet, thanks for the idea! ~Elise

  8. Amy

    Miso has a good “umami” flavor that can help compensate for the lack of anchovies. White or red miso would be my choices for this recipe. Another substitute would be to add a tiny bit of soy sauce at the end of cooking the onions, and then cook until the pan is dry again. Third idea: salt cured black olives. Chop finely or puree to keep the flavor dispersed throughout the dish like melted anchovies would be.

  9. Linda

    Have you ever made and/or eaten cauliflower pureed? Heaven.

    Yes, in our cauliflower purée we add a bit of sour cream and butter. Lovely. ~Elise

  10. Kristin

    Oh, it’s not just kids! I’m thirty-four and cannot bring myself to try anchovies. The claim, “it’s just salty and flavor-ful, not fishy” requires such a supension of disbelief on my part when I look at those silvery little fish bodies that I just can’t bring myself to do it! But I will. I’m making it a resolution. How can I not when I keep hearing how delicious they are? :) ~K

  11. Meg

    We had this for dinner tonight, Elise. Delicioso! You’re right about wanting to eat the whole bowl. I had to put the extras away immediately, or we would have consumed it all in one sitting. Thanks for a great dinner!

  12. Jenn R

    I am not a lover of anchovies OR cauliflower, but I made this last night for my husband and I and we both gobbled it up. He is from Rome and found this dish to be very authentically Italian (we used Pecorino cheese instead of Parmesan for a Roman touch). For all of you anchovy-phobes, I can testify that you will not taste them and they just completely dissolve into the dish. Try it!

  13. Jessica

    Made this last night, it was delicious! Used a whole can of anchovies, my boyfriend loved it, too. Used frozen cauliflower in place of fresh ($4 a head!)

  14. E. Peevie

    Just made this. Can’t stop eating it.

    Where does the strong taste of anchovies go? I’m positive they add flavor, but the too-strong anchovyness is not there.

    I bought anchovies for the first time ever for this recipe. Elise, you are a goddess.

  15. sK

    Do you think I could use anchovy paste? What’s the difference? I mean, besides the obvious, of course. I just have never bought either. Sounds delicious, tho!

    Anchovy paste works fine. I’ve used it on other dishes. ~Elise

  16. RD

    I made this last night for dinner. Being a fan of pasta puttanesca I knew I would like this dish. And it is a great way to use cauliflower which we don’t eat much around here. It is amazing how a little bit of anchovies can add so much depth to the flavor of a dish yet people don’t even know you used anchovies. I followed the recipe pretty close but used anchovy paste in a tube that we already had in the fridge and dry plain bread crumbs we had in the pantry. I’ll definitely make it again.

  17. Marion Olson

    My husband and I are both total fans of cauliflower, so we knew this was going to be a good one. I used a whole can of fire-roasted tomatoes, and personally think there was a bit too much tomato in the mix, but of course we ate nearly the whole thing!

    This seems to be a variant of an old favorite – pasta with broccoli and anchovies – no tomatoes but plenty of olive oil and the anchovies smushed into the olive oil/onion mixture. Lots of Parmesan and it’s another fantastic use for cruciferous veggies.

    I love anchovies, but my husband has had to be carefully exposed to them – at least with these recipes there are no little bony things to find.

  18. anya

    I made it and IT WAS FABULOUS! My boyfriend thought it was the best dish I’ve ever made. We ate it practically every meal till it was gone!

  19. araz

    I am eating it for breakfast as I type this. I made it for dinner last night, and I dreamed about it. It was my first time buying & using anchovies, and it’s true that they melt away, leaving no fishy taste. Just good flavor. Thank you for another lovely recipe!

  20. Christen

    I made this for dinner last night, and it was very tasty! I had never cooked with anchovies before, and I was a little dubious when I opened the tin of slimy little fish, but the whole dish did not taste at all fishy–rather, it had the wonderful savoriness that Elise described. In my very humble opinion, I thought the tomatoes overwhelmed the dish a little. Perhaps next time I’ll modify the recipe, using less tomatoes. I also love the idea of adding prosciutto to this! Yum!

  21. Ana

    I just tried this recipe today and am eating it right now and can I say! WOW! Amazing! Especially since I did not exactly follow the recipe requirements, but the ingredients just make it impossible not to work. It is the perfect dish for a poor busy student in a foreign country like me because it takes very little time and easy-to-find ingredients. Plus, the meal lasts for days. I cannot wait to try it again tomorrow. THANKS FOR THIS!!!

  22. Samantha

    Just amazing! I was even able to feed it to people who would normally turn their nose up to the thought of eating anchovies! I made sure I told them what they were eating after! :)

  23. Irma

    I cooked this pasta this evening. So good! I used whole wheat pasta (“fusilli”). Yum! :)
    Thanks for recipe!
    Great blog!
    best regards from Italy

  24. Laurel

    I have wanted to make this since you posted it and finally did tonight. It was just wonderful!! I made it without pasta and bread crumbs because I’m not eating bread right now. It was amazing. I will be making this again soon. Can’t wait to try it with nuts and raisins. I am just loving using anchovies in cooking (salads, etc) and want to try some other cauliflower recipes with anchovies. Thanks for the awesome recipe, it’s a keeper!

  25. sara

    We made an adaptation of this tonight, using wine and chicken broth to replace the tomatoes since we weren’t in the mood for a tomatoey pasta. It turned out wonderfully, and I am now (at least in a limited sense) an anchovy convert!

    Wow, great post! Thank you for encouraging people to not fear the anchovy. So glad you liked it! ~Elise

  26. Crystal

    I’m crazy for anchovies. I’ve found a recipe for Anchovy Carbonara that I can’t wait to try.

  27. Janice

    Made this for dinner tonight and it was delicious. I couldn’t quite imagine how the combination of anchovies, cauliflower and breadcrumbs would work but they just do! Thanks for sharing.

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