If you ask my kids what their favorite dishes are, they’d both say that this cauliflower pasta is in their top 5. This particular dish is why they tend to tell people that they LOVE cauliflower and it’s been the gateway to them trying cauliflower soup and other cauliflower dishes (I have yet to try cauliflower rice, though!). Even the husband, who is sometimes worse about eating his veggies than the kids, loves this dish. The first time I made it, he had NO idea it was even cauliflower; he was totally confused! He said it tasted nutty and that’s the trick – once you get the cauliflower in the skillet, break it up into smaller pieces so that it really gets to caramelize and turns out having this really nutty, delicious flavor. I prefer to use Romano cheese but I’ve totally done half Romano/Parmesan if I didn’t have enough Romano because it’s flexible. The cheese just gives it a little more salty goodness. I sometimes add bacon or pancetta if I have it on hand, although I typically like serving this as a meatless meal. I’ve made this dish SO many times and that is saying a lot because in my dinner journal (inspired by Dinner: A Love Story) I’ve found that of the few repeat dishes I make at home, I tend to cook them every 6 weeks. That just ends up happening consistently over the years, even though it’s not planned! Here are a few more tricks I have when making this dish, perfected over the last 9 years!
*While the cauliflower is cooking, I heat up a separate skillet with the oil in it. When one minute is left to go on the cauliflower, I add the garlic and red pepper to the hot skillet. That way the garlic doesn’t burn (ick) and it’s ready to go when the cauliflower is done!
*I dump the cheese into the dish once it’s all done and mix. Usually I know how much cheese my family likes (not too much, sadly). If you have a cheese-loving family, you can bring some more cheese to the table for people to add as they like but I prefer just plating the food with everything else ready to go, if needed!
That’s basically it! It’s a straightforward recipe. It takes minimal time and whenever I have a cauliflower sitting in the refrigerator, this is what I usually make. The family fights over leftovers and because of this dish, I always have Romano cheese in my fridge. It’s a staple of my family and my hope is that it will be a part of yours, too!
Pasta with Cauliflower
adapted slightly from the Boston Globe
1 large head of cauliflower, trimmed and cut into small florets
1/2 cup olive oil
5 large cloves garlic, chopped
Pinch of crushed red pepper, or more to taste
Salt, to taste
1 pound dry rigatoni pasta ( I’ve made it with all kinds of pasta and the picture above is penne!)
1 handful of parsley, leaves only, chopped
1 cup grated pecorino Romano cheese
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat.
2. While the water is heating, place the florets in a large bowl of
cold water to soak. When the water comes to a boil, transfer the
florets to the boiling water and for cook 6 to 7 minutes or until they
are tender when pierced with a sharp knife.
3. Use a strainer or slotted spoon to remove the cauliflower from the
water. Do not discard the cooking water. Keep it at a low boil until
you are ready to cook the pasta.
4. In a large flameproof casserole over medium-high heat, heat the
oil. Add the garlic and the red pepper and cook, stirring, about 1
minute. Do not let the garlic brown. Add the florets with salt. Stir
gently. Lower the heat slightly and continue to cook, still stirring,
for about 10 to 15 minutes longer or until the cauliflower is tender.
5. Meanwhile, bring the cooking water back to a rapid boil. Add salt
and the rigatoni. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes or
until the pasta is tender, but still firm to the bite.
6. Drain the pasta into a colander and add it to the pan with the
cauliflower. Stir well to combine. Add the parsley, taste for
seasoning, and add more salt and red pepper, if you like. Continue
cooking 2 to 3 minutes longer. Serve with Romano cheese.