The thought of cauliflower and pasta never sounded appealing to me. I feared that cauliflower would be too mushy to serve with pasta, and most recipes I came across sounded rather mundane.
When I saw this recipe in Molto Gusto, I decided, with some hesitation, to give it a try. It was a rather gutsy move for a dinner party. I stood in my kitchen staring at the box of penne and the head of cauliflower and thought to myself, this can't possibly taste good together.
I could not have been more wrong.
The bread crumbs add a much needed textural contrast, the rosemary offers clean, sweet flavors, and the parmiggiano regiano adds nuttiness. Next time I would use flat leaf Italian parsley in place of rosemary because I found the rosemary to be a bit overpowering. Cooking the caulfilower as a ragu not only brings out a deeper flavor but also makes the cauliflower practically melt in your mouth creating a rich texture with little bits of cauliflower scattered throughout.
This post concludes the Molto Gusto inspired dinner party. What about dessert you ask? Decadent flourless chocolate cake (not from Mario). I cannot wait to try his gelato and sorbet recipes!
Penne with Cauliflower Ragu (from Molto Gusto)
1 medium cauliflower
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium white onion, cut into 1/4" dice
3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
Maldon or other flaky sea salt
2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
6 tbsp butter, cut into 6 pieces
1 lb penne
3/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano, plus extra for serving
1/2 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs toasted in olive oil (see recipe below)
1 1/2 tsp minced fresh rosemary
Halve the cauliflower. Remove the leaves and core, reserving both. Cut the cauliflower into bite size florets, reserving the stalks. Chop leaves, core, and stalks.
In a large pot over medium heat, add oil and heat until shimmery. Add onion and garlic, cook 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cauliflower leaves, stalks, and core. Season with Maldon and cook until leaves are beginning to wilt, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook until leaves are just tender, stirring frequently, about 18-20 minutes.
Add cauliflower florets, crushed red pepper, and 1 cup of water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to gentle simmer, cover and cook until cauliflower is very soft and almost falling apart, about 22-25 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add butter, stirring until it melts. Season well with Maldon salt and remove from heat.
Bring water to a boil, add salt, and cook pasta just before al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 2/3 cup pasta water. Add pasta and 1/3 cup of the reserved pasta water to the cauliflower ragu. Stir and toss over medium heat until the pasta is well coated. Add a splash or two of the reserved pasta water if necessary to loosen the sauce. Stir in the cheese.
Transfer pasta to serving bowl, sprinkle with fresh bread crumbs toasted in olive oil (see recipe below) and fresh rosemary. Serve with additional grated parmigiano reggiano on top.
Bread crumbs toasted in olive oil
Tear 4 slices of good rustic bread into roughly 1" pieces. Grind in a food processor to coarse size leaving some pieces slightly larger. In a small sauté pan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat until hot. Add 1/2 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs and toast until golden, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a plate and let cool.