Sunday, September 13, 2009

Blonde on Blonde: Cauliflower and Pasta

Cauliflower is a highly underrated vegetable.  I absolutely love it, and this is a significant statement coming from someone who has a penchant for comfort food (see the previous post for an example).  Steamed, mashed, caramelized, or roasted: cauliflower is the epitome of versatility.  It fits into infinite ethnic cuisines.  Its adaptability is reminiscent of pasta, another one of my favorites, and the two create quite a duet in the right context, such as Pasta with Cauliflower, Green Olives, and Almonds (courtesy of  In this heady blend, linguine is tossed with sautéed cauliflower, and laced with garlic and hot pepper flakes.  Green olives unleash their briny brilliance, while flat leaf parsley, parmesan, and the crunch of toasted almonds provide balance in this pungent dish.  Below is the recipe:

1 1/4 cups pitted brine-cured green olives (plain or stuffed)
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup olive oil
1 (2 1/2-pound) head cauliflower, cut into 1-inch-wide florets (8 cups)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Scant 1/2 teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes
1/4 cup water
3/4 pound dried spaghetti or linguine
1 ounce finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano (1/2 cup) plus additional for serving
3/4 cup whole almonds with skin (3 3/4 ounces), toasted and coarsely chopped

Pulse olives and parsley in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a bowl.
Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then cook cauliflower with salt, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and red-pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is tender and garlic is golden, 3 to 5 minutes.
Stir in water and boil 1 minute. Add olive mixture and cook, stirring, until heated through, about 2 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook pasta in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta-cooking water. Drain in a colander and return to pot.
Add cauliflower mixture and toss well, then add cheese and toss again. If pasta is dry, moisten with some reserved cooking water.
Sprinkle pasta with almonds and serve immediately, with additional cheese on the side.

My rendition was scaled down to about a quarter of the specified quantity, without using exact measurements.  Though I would love Reggiano as a staple in my refrigerator, this is not realistic at $18 per pound.  However, I find Argentine parmesan (also known as “Reggianito”) perfectly acceptable, but I always grate it fresh.  I skipped the food processor, choosing to chop the olives and parsley by hand, and I resorted to adding them at the end, since I am personally opposed to gratuitous cooking of olives, or fresh herbs.  Nor did I add the water to the cauliflower, but used pasta cooking water to moisten the pasta in the final stages.

The end result was sultry, like a blonde puttanesca*.  Although future adjustments are by no means necessary, I have the sneaking suspicion that a grating of lemon zest would be a welcome addition.  This dish will definitely be making some repeat performances in my kitchen.

*See glossary for definitions.


  1. This sounds awesome. I love cauliflower and I love pasta. Gotta try it. I am also a cooking enthusiast like you. My wife is a lot more than and much better than I am though. I will definitely keep an eye out for your pasta dishes.

  2. Sara, as I speak there is a piece of pasta burning on the stove: a victim of my race for seconds. I just made this dish, and I feel full for the first time in what might be years. Like a satisfied, pot bellied full. I would never have thought to put cauliflower with pasta, and oh my was it good! I subtracted the olives and and used cayanee instead of pepper flakes ( I didn't know I was even going to make this until 45 minutes ago), but it still came out great. Thanks for this!