The Cauliflower Chronicles continue. Of course the surest way for me to enjoy a new vegetable is on pasta, but it took me a surprisingly long time to find the right recipe. Although there are umpteen million variations on the classic cauliflower + pasta + breadcrumbs combo out there, none of my usual sources served up exactly what I was looking for. I definitely wanted the cauliflower to be roasted, because that’s how I’ve enjoyed it best so far. I wanted big, bold flavors, but no olives or anchovies or capers or raisins (all recipe dealbreakers for me, and all frequently found with cauliflower and pasta). And I thought a little meat would make it an easier sell to A. I usually stick to trusted blogs and websites for recipes, but I finally had to resort to straight-up Googling to hunt down this one from the Candid Appetite that seemed to have it all: roasted cauliflower, Italian sausage, breadcrumbs, and plenty of onion, garlic, lemon, and red pepper. (Strangely, the only thing it lacked was cheese, which is kind of a necessity when it comes to pasta in my opinion, so I added a sprinkling of Parmesan.)
I was pleased to discover that I’d chosen well; this recipe is pretty genius. Roasting the cauliflower with lemon juice, red pepper flakes and plenty of salt gives it tons of flavor (although all the liquid does interfere with the browning a bit because the cauliflower basically steams before it starts to roast, and I found I had to keep it in the oven much longer than the recipe dictated in order to get the level of caramelization I was looking for). The acid and spice balance perfectly with the nutty/cabbagey cauliflower, savory sausage, sweet onion, toasty breadcrumbs, and bright parsley for a rich and roasty but still fresh and not-too-heavy meal.
Other than correcting the cheese deficit, my only other change was to use fresh breadcrumbs instead of the odd mix of panko and “plain breadcrumbs” (aka storebought dry breadcrumbs, I guess? Why bother using two kinds?) called for in the original recipe. I’m a panko fan, but I know from past experience that I love the flavor and texture of toasted fresh breadcrumbs in pasta dishes, especially when they get all soft and super-flavor-soaked in the leftovers. I also skipped cooking the parsley with the breadcrumbs, to keep the green taste and color of the fresh herb intact. As for the Italian sausage, I usually default to chicken, but since I was a little concerned this dish would turn out too bland and/or dry (not really having a sauce per se), I went half-and-half with pork and thought it was perfect. It wouldn’t be terrible if you wanted to do all chicken sausage, but that extra little bit of grease and meatiness really amps things up.
The conclusion of this latest chapter in my cruciferous vegetable conquests? It’s safe to say now that I definitely like cauliflower. And what’s more, I’ve found my new favorite pasta.
1 medium to medium-large head cauliflower
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium lemon, juiced
1½ teaspoons salt, divided
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 to 1½ cups fresh breadcrumbs
1 pound spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 pound cavatappi or other curly pasta
Grated Parmesan cheese to taste
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Cut the cauliflower into small florets and place on a baking sheet. In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons olive oil, lemon juice, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Pour over the cauliflower and toss until evenly combined. Shake pan to distribute the cauliflower into a single layer. Roast for about 25 to 40 minutes, stirring the cauliflower and rotating the baking sheet halfway through, until browned and crispy. Remove from oven and set aside.
- While the cauliflower is roasting, place a small skillet over medium heat. Add one tablespoon olive oil, and when it’s warm, add the breadcrumbs. Toast, stirring often, until breadcrumbs are crisp and golden brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions. Right before draining, reserve 1 cup of the pasta water.
- While the water is heating, place a large skillet over medium heat and add remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the sausage and break down with a wooden spoon. Cook until browned, then add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and just beginning to brown.
- When the pasta is drained, immediately throw it into the skillet with the sausage and onion. Add the reserved pasta water, roasted cauliflower, parsley and most of the breadcrumbs (reserve a few tablespoons for garnish). Stir until evenly combined and cook for a minute or two.
- Serve with a sprinkling of the reserved toasted breadcrumbs, and grated Parmesan to taste.
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.