Linguine with Cauliflower Pesto

I was so excited to finally get The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook from my library after being on the waiting list for over a month! My sister, of course, has it as well as many friends who all highly recommend it.  It’s a great book for small kitchens, and for people that love vegetarian options for dinner (with a lot of cheese).

It’s a hit for me because I (1) have a tiny kitchen, (2) love cheese and don’t always need to eat meat and (3) have a little baby just like the author of the book had when she wrote it. There are many dishes I’m going to be trying over the next month (if I can keep the book out that long) and the first one I tried was Linguine with Cauliflower Pesto.

The author, Deb Perelman, was inspired by a dish at Gramercy Tavern in Manhattan.  I have never been to this restaurant, but have always wanted to go as it’s one of those “must-go-to” places in the city.

This is also a good recipe to make in stages. With a little one around, it was easy to stop and start. I was able to make the pesto in the afternoon and then not make the pasta until about a half hour before I had dinner. In Deb’s book, she even talks about how she made this dish especially when she had a newborn. I thought it quite suitable to start out with this recipe first.

Cauliflower Pesto Pasta
 
Author:
Recipe type: Vegetarian/Main Dish
Cuisine: American

Ingredients
  • salt
  • 1 small head of cauliflower (trimmed, cored, and cut into large chunks)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • Generous pinch of red pepper flakes
  • ½ cup of pine nuts (or almonds)
  • 2 oz chunk romano or parmesan
  • 4 sun dried tomatoes (dry variety; if oil-packed, be sure to drain and mince them by hand before putting them in the food processor)
  • 1 tbsp drained capers
  • few tbsp of parsley leaves
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • ½ to 1 tsp sherry vinegar (to taste)
  • 1 lb of linguine

Instructions
  1. Set a large of salted water to boil.
  2. Prepare pesto: Pulse half the cauliflower in a food processor until it looks like mixed sizes of couscous. Transfer the cauliflower to a large bowl, and repeat with the second batch, adding it to the same bowl when you are finished.
  3. Pulse the garlic, pepper flakes, almonds (or pine nuts), cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, and parsley in a food processor.
  4. Transfer to the bowl with cauliflower and add the olive oil, the smaller amount of vinegar, and some salt and stir until completely combined. (If you do this step in the food processor, it becomes an unseemly paste. Best to do it by hand.)
  5. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed–either by adding salt, pepper or remainder of vinegar. (start out with about ½ tsp of salt but go up to nearly a full tsp)
  6. Assemble Dish: Once water is boiling, add the linguine and cook until al dente.
  7. Reserve a cup of the cooking water then drain rest.
  8. Immediately toss the hot pasta with the cauliflower pesto and half of your reserved cooking water, until everything is nicely dispersed.

In her cookbook she recommends cutting up the cauliflower chunks by hand that don’t easily cut in the food processor, but I found no problem with this.  You will know the pesto is ready when it looks like “course breadcrumbs.”  The recipe can be modified to fit your tastes and if I make this again I will probably add more pine nuts (only because I love them) and maybe a couple more splashes of sherry vinegar which adds a nice bite.

The recipe does request you mix the pesto immediately with the pasta and water, but I had to refrigerate mine (not sure this was necessary) for a couple of hours before I served it, and I think it tasted just fine. I did have to work harder to make sure the ingredients were dispersed evenly, but other than that I was satisfied and so was my husband who can sometimes picky! It was fabulous for leftovers.

Pesto Cauliflower

Cauliflower Panzanella

Sometimes you come home from work and find this staring at you:

Ok, not exactly.  I haven’t actually started having delusions where heads of cauliflower upbraid me for neglecting them at the end of a workday.  But maybe you know how I feel–you have bought a bunch of perishables, merrily thinking about how you’ll have plenty for a week of fresh, healthy meals.  You pick out some things you use immediately, while the sturdier, less glamorous vegetables you’ve bought are passed over day after day.  And then, shopping day long past, all you have is a cauliflower [insert here whatever vegetable you have been avoiding dealing with], and you need to make dinner.  And it’s 5:45, did I mention that?

It’s not that I’m firmly in the anti-cauliflower camp (though as the rest of my household is,  I know anytime I make it I’d better like it as I’m the one who is eating it over the next few days).  I’ve realized that when pan-fried or oven-roasted, when slightly charred and caramelized at the edges, when firm and not mushy in texture, cauliflower can actually be…good?

But though proper preparation is key, proper seasoning is also a must.  While a stint in a hot oven brings out a lot of unsung flavor, I find that cauliflower is still in essence a blank palate that needs something assertive to pep it up.

Anchovy vinaigrette perhaps?

It’s actually a perfect combination.  Somehow, when anchovies are whisked into an emulsion with lemon, garlic, and some olive oil, the resulting golden liquid is irresistible on anything and everything.  Yes, even cauliflower!

So there’s a great side dish, or a casual starter.  But since I bake bread every weekend, I often have a few hunks of that are going a bit stale–not ideal for sandwiches, but perfect for a bread salad.  I tore up half a loaf and added it to my roasted cauliflower and voila:  an easy end of summer meal.

I’d like to tell you that this dish overcame my family’s anti-cauliflower prejudices.  Maybe it would have, if they had deigned to try it.  But I can tell you that I was perfectly happy not to share.

Cauliflower Panzanella

  • One medium head of cauliflower (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • Day-old country-style loaf of bread (about a half pound or so)
  • 2-3 T olive oil for drizzling

For vinaigrette:

  • 2-3 anchovy filets in oil or preserved in salt (prepared as described here).
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1/4c olive oil (more if using salt-packed anchovies)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut or break cauliflower into florets and spread in a single layer in a roasting pan or casserole dish.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle on salt and pepper, and use your hands to mix well.  Tear (or cut) up your bread into rough pieces, about the size of large croutons or even larger.  Arrange on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan.

When the oven is hot, place both trays in the oven.  Toast the bread for about 10 minutes, remove from the oven, stir the cauliflower and continue to roast until the cauliflower is tender when pierced with a fork, turning a pale golden brown, even charring in spots, about 15-20 minutes more (25-30 minutes in total). (Note that it is not essential to toast the bread, but I went ahead with it because my oven was being used anyway.  I might have skipped this step if not roasting the cauliflower as well).

While the cauliflower is roasting, make the vinaigrette.  If you have a blender, or mini food processor, put all the ingredients into your mixer (breaking up the anchovies with your hands a bit) and process until emulsified.  If you don’t have a mixer to use, mince the anchovies as if you were mincing garlic (it will start to form something like a paste) and mix together with the lemon juice and garlic.  Whisk in the oil in a stream to emulsify and make the dressing.   Taste and correct seasonings (I had to add more salt, as I was wary of adding much at the beginning, knowing that anchovies themselves are very salty).

When the cauliflower is done, mix it together with the bread, drizzle the dressing on top, and toss.

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