One of my all-time favorite pastas of all time is puttanesca, a tomato-based pasta dish spiced up with red pepper, piquant olives, and capers. When it comes to quick, deeply flavored dishes, it ranks high in my repertoire. So I was excited to try this variation on the dish, from Real Simple, which introduces one of my favorite vegetables of all time into the mix, stretching the recipe into something a little bit healthier.
The key to this recipe is getting as much flavor and color on the cauliflower as possible without overcooking it (this is a general rule for me regarding cauliflower anyway). Since this is a vegetarian version of puttanesca—it doesn't have the nutty base of anchovies melted into olive oil—the cauliflower plays the replacement role. At the beginning, high heat is your friend. Once that flavor is built into the dish, the rest is easy and comes together in no time.
Adapted from Real Simple.
- Yield:serves 4
- Active time: 15 minutes
- Total time:25 minutes
- 3/4 pound penne or other short pasta
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small head cauliflower (about 1 1/2 pounds), broken into small florets
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed
- 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped
- 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- Grated Parmesan, for serving
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta until al dente, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water before draining.
In the meantime, heat the olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the cauliflower and cook, stirring only occasionally, until golden and well-caramelized, 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic, crushed red pepper, and a good pinch of salt and pepper and cook for an additional minute until the garlic is fragrant.
Add the tomatoes with their juices, olives, and capers. Continue cooking until the cauliflower is soft, but not mushy, about 5 minutes more. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Add the cooked pasta to the cauliflower mixture and toss to combine. Add some of the pasta cooking water and simmer over low heat until the sauce and pasta and cauliflower mixture form into a sauce.Stir in the parsley, then divide the pasta amongst bowls. Serve with Parmesan.