Holy moly, the things that happen when you combine cauliflower and high heat. It's like vegetable candy. Roasted in a hot oven or seared in the skillet, this ranch-doused raw vegetable of my youth turns rich, meaty, and remarkably sweet. Just for good measure, it's cooked in this recipe with bacon.
I found this pasta recipe on Gourmet.com, from a 1996 issue of the magazine. It actually calls for "broccoflower," which is a green version sometimes called Romanesco broccoli, but I didn't know where to find that, and the regular variety was still delicious.
After the jump, I've simplified the recipe by getting rid of the parboiling stage for the cauliflower; I found that for sufficient caramelization, I had to cook the florets until it they were beginning to disintegrate, so it's not necessary to precook them. The breadcrumbs, made crunchy with olive oil, are essential for texture—I made some by grating a stale baguette against the large holes of a box grater.
- 1 large head cauliflower (about 2 1/2 pounds), cut into 1/2-inch pieces, thicker stems removed
- 3/4 lb dried orecchiette or cavatelli pasta
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2/3 cup fresh bread crumbs
- 1/4 pound bacon or pancetta, chopped
- 2 large garlic cloves, chopped
- Freshly grated Parmesan
Bring a large pot of salty water to boil for the pasta. In the meantime, prepare the cauliflower and grate bread for crumbs, if necessary.
In a large heavy skillet, heat 1 and a half tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat, then add the bread crumbs. Toast, stirring often, until golden and slightly crisp. Remove to a small bowl and wipe the skillet clean.
Cook the bacon in the same skillet over medium-high heat a few minutes until the fat renders, then add the cauliflower pieces, garlic, and a good pinch of salt. Cook, stirring only very occasionally, until the bacon is crisp and the cauliflower is caramelized and golden.
In the meantime, cook the pasta until al dente, reserving a cup of pasta water. Drain and add pasta to the skillet, tossing to combine. Add olive oil and pasta water as needed to achieve a rich, slightly creamy consistency.
Serve with a shower of breadcrumbs, black pepper, and Parmesan cheese.