Cook the Book: Rigatoni with Cauliflower, Pecorino, Hot Pepper, and Bread Crumbs

Cook the Book: Rigatoni with Cauliflower, Pecorino, Hot Pepper, and Bread Crumbs

[Photograph: Caroline Russock]

Every night at Marco Canora's restaurant Hearth, he offers a prix fixe cucina povera menu [PDF], a simple three course meal at a bargain price of $35. Canora translates cucina povera to "humble cooking," dishes made with modest ingredients that are soul-satisfying and delicious beyond their cost.

This recipe for Rigatoni with Cauliflower, Pecorino, Hot Pepper, and Bread Crumbs from Salt to Taste is a perfect example of how inexpensive, humble ingredients can be transformed into a dish that is more than the sum of its parts.

I'm not one to get too worked up over cauliflower and pasta, but this dish changed my mind. The cauliflower is sauced with crushed tomatoes, a hearty pinch of chili flakes, parsley, and percorino, which is tossed with the pasta and then topped with toasted bread crumbs and more cheese. The finished dish comes out of the oven bubbling and toasty with just the right amount of heat. Simple, rustic, and very satisfying, this baked pasta is a wonderful way to feed a hungry group without spending an arm and a leg.

Win Salt to Taste

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Salt to Taste to give away this week.

  • Yield:4 to 6


  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 1/4 cup minced carrot
  • 1/4 cup minced celery
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 large head of cauliflower, broken into small florets
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Large pinch of minced peperoncini or red pepper flakes
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 pound rigatoni
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese
  • 1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted


  1. 1.

    Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large heavy-bottomed pot. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic. Fry the soffritto, stirring often, until the

  2. 2.

    vegetables soften, about 10 minutes.

  3. 3.

    Add the cauliflower and mix thoroughly. Season with salt, pepper, and peperoncini. Cook until the cauliflower begins to soften, about 5 minutes.

  4. 4.

    Break the tomatoes into the pot, allowing the juices within to fall into the sauce (discard the juice in the can). Mix well, reduce the heat to low, and

  5. 5.

    simmer gently until the cauliflower is tender and begins to break apart, about

  6. 6.

    10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

  7. 7.

    Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is almost al dente. Lift the cooked pasta out

  8. 8.

    of the water and add it to the cauliflower mixture to finish cooking in the sauce.

  9. 9.

    Add enough of the pasta cooking water to loosen the sauce, about 1/2 cup, and increase the heat to medium-high. Add the parsley and half of the pecorino

  10. 10.

    and cook, stirring to coat the pasta with cauliflower sauce. When the pasta is al dente, remove the pot from the heat.

  11. 11.

    Meanwhile, preheat the broiler. In a small bowl, mix the bread crumbs, butter, and the remaining pecorino. Transfer the pasta and sauce to a shallow

  12. 12.

    baking dish. Spoon an even layer of the bread crumbs over the pasta. Brown the bread crumbs under the broiler, about 3 minutes. Let the pasta rest for 5 minutes, then serve.