“I think the President put it best
When he gave his big address
He said, I know what they told you in the press
But people, spring is just around the corner
Trust me, spring is just around the corner.”*
I was listening to the radio the other week when I heard a comment that surprised me. It was that while many people cook confidently, many get apprehensive when it comes to cooking something vegetarian.
Well, this is vegetarian and I hope most cooks will find this easy, the experienced and the apprehensive alike. Don't be put off by the number of steps; it's just a way of making each step clear as you will see when you read it. Although there is an added step of making a cauliflower puree as a sauce base, you can ignore it (and I’ll give you an easy substitution) but I’ve included it to boost the flavor of the dish. The puree makes use of leftover cauliflower. You can use the stem or some florets or both. The puree enriches the pasta without using cream. It's an easy technique to add to your skill set. And it uses something you might think of tossing out. Remember, "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are." That was Teddy Roosevelt, not some famous chef, who said that but that's what cooking is all about.
This is a dinner for spring, when cauliflower is enjoying its last days of “winter vegetable” status but it will also work in the summer. Cauliflower and tomatoes appear at our local farmers market about the same time so don’t think about this as only for early spring, although some may question my sanity by suggesting that you roast cauliflower on a hot summer night.
Since I’m most often cooking for two, I select small-sized heads of cauliflower but sometimes that isn’t an option. I added some grape tomatoes for sweetness. They can be roasted at the same time as the cauliflower. I used whole wheat pasta because it works well with the flavor of the roasted cauliflower. I chose rotini because I thought the sauce would work its way into the little spirals of the pasta, which it does, but you can use what you like.
Whole Wheat Rotini with Roasted Cauliflower and Tomatoes
For two servings
4 ounces (dry) whole wheat rotini (or other pasta)
2 cups cauliflower florets, cut into bit-sized pieces
16-18 grape tomatoes
1 cup chopped trimmings from the cauliflower
1 cup water
½ teaspoon salt
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and ground black pepper
2 to 3 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 to 3 Tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese (or Parmesan cheese)
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, optional
1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Toss the cauliflower pieces with salt and pepper and olive oil to coat and spread the cauliflower out in one layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place the cauliflower into the oven and roast for 16 minutes; remove the cauliflower from the oven after that time and turn the cauliflower so it browns evenly. Return the cauliflower to roast for and additional 5 or 6 minutes. The cauliflower should be tender; a knife should easily pierce the cauliflower. Remove cauliflower from the oven. Wrap the foil around the cauliflower to allow it to steam while it cools. Set aside.
2. At the same time, place the grape tomatoes into a second foil-lined pan. Drizzle the tomatoes with some olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the tomatoes into the oven to roast for 16 minutes or until slightly blistered. Remove from oven and set aside.
3. While the cauliflower and tomatoes are roasting, place the chopped cauliflower trimmings into a small saucepan with the water and ½ teaspoon salt. Place onto the stove over high heat and bring to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer until the cauliflower pieces are completely soft, about 10 minutes. Set aside and let cool slightly before pureeing.
4. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water for one minute less than suggested cooking time: the pasta is going to finish cooking in the pan with the sauce. While waiting for the pasta to cook, puree the cauliflower pieces until smooth using either an immersion blender or regular blender and set aside.
5. Place a sauté pan onto the stove over medium-high heat. When hot, swirl in about two tablespoons olive oil. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the roasted cauliflower and tomatoes to the pan; add any juices from the tomatoes, too. Add the cauliflower puree (or ½ cup of the pasta water) to the pan. Let the sauce begin reducing.
6. When the pasta is ready, drain the pasta and add it to the pan; season generously with ground black pepper, the chopped basil and cheese. Mix together and let the sauce thicken. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Add the butter, if using, right before serving and mix together.
7. Divide the pasta between two bowls and serve. Add additional cheese if you wish.
*from Spring is Just Around the Corner, by Richard Julian