[Photograph: Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton]
Deborah Madison's cauliflower and pasta dish from her new cookbook Vegetable Literacy is a surprise of a recipe. It almost looks like something I'd throw together without thinking, but has a few tweaks that make it stand out from my ordinary dinners. First, Madison uses what may look like a dangerous amount of red pepper flakes; her scant teaspoon looks menacing compared to my usual pinch or two. Also, she throws in parsley, lots of parsley, in three places, some of it is cooked with garlic to mellow, some of it is wilted into the cooked pasta, and the rest is thrown in at the end for a bright finish.
But the real winner here is saffron. The floral taste of saffron always reminds me of bouillabaisse; tasting bites of Madison's cauliflower dish takes my mind to the French stew but for much less time and effort.
Why I picked this recipe: I pair cauliflower with pasta on a regular basis, but never would have thought to add saffron.
What worked: The finished dish had a great balance of earthy cauliflower and floral saffron. Copious amounts of olive oil (use your best here!) don't hurt things either.
What didn't: I thought the use of three pots for a simple pasta dish was a bit silly. Next time, I'll skip par-steaming the cauliflower and just give it more time in the skillet (with a little more water added). I ended up needing to cook it in the skillet longer than written anyway.
Suggested tweaks: You could give this same treatment to broccoli if you wanted, and could certainly use whole wheat pasta for a heartier take. If you're not inclined to spend the money on saffron (but you really should, just this once), a couple of pinches of turmeric will add similar color.
About the author: Kate Williams is a freelance writer and personal chef living in Berkeley, CA. She is a contributor to The Oxford American, Berkeleyside NOSH, and blogs at cookingwolves.wordpress.com.