Lately I’ve noticed a rush of cauliflower recipes on food blogs—likely because we’re in the throes of a seemingly endless winter and we’re all working with what limited fresh vegetables we can get. There have been postings by Elise at Simply Recipes, Heidi at 101 Cookbooks, and Joe at Gothamist Food (and Foodie), and I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting. Each had a wonderful twist, a way to keep the sulfurous mush from developing. I love cauliflower; that, uh, unique odor never put me off, but S has a pronounced aversion to any member of the cabbage family. One of my favorite things about my husband, though, is his willingness to try things he thinks he doesn’t like if they’re prepared a new way. I am much less willing to try, say, yogurt (although I did recently and it only confirmed that I truly do hate the stuff). So last week I roasted up some cauliflower tossed with a little garlic and hot pepper paste, and game man that he is, S tasted it. Shock of shocks, he liked it! Naturally I went out and bought another head; last night I got a little more serious about it, and more playful at the same time.
Just as Foodie Joe took a little from this source, a little from that one in creating his Roasted Cauliflower, I pinched a bit from his, a bit from Heidi’s, and a bit from my own experience to create this dish. Where Joe used raisins, I though the more assertive, deeper flavor of dried figs might work. Heidi’s toasted pine nuts sounded like a perfect crunchy counterpoint. And the rest: well, that all comes from the mysterious cavern that is my brain. The final recipe was a keeper, filled with sweetness and heat and texture, a satisfying, vegetarian main course that’s perfect for a winter night. One ingredient note: The anchovy paste adds a lovely, mellow, salty undertone, so hold your “ewwwws”—I don’t like anchovies, either, but anchovy paste is a staple in my kitchen and I urge you to include it.
As for my formerly cauliflower-hating husband: He polished off his bowl shockingly fast, and then devoured the rest of mine.
WW readers: The figs and pine nuts are the only things that aren’t Core here, so I counted this as 4 points.
Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower, Figs, and Mint
1 medium head cauliflower, cored and separated into small florets
Salt & pepper
½ t. red pepper flakes
1 T. rosemary, chopped
8 oz. whole wheat pasta of your choice [I used penne]
3 large cloves garlic, minced
½ t. anchovy paste
10 small figs, diced and plumped in hot water (reserve the water) [I used Orchard Choice Mission Figlets—they’re quite moist and plump]
A good handful of fresh mint, chopped fine
1 oz. pine nuts, toasted
Fleur de sel (optional)
First, roast the cauliflower:
Preheat the oven to 425. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat with cooking spray; set aside. In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower florets with a glug or two of olive oil (about 2 t.), salt & freshly ground pepper, and the red pepper flakes. Spread on the prepared baking sheet in a single layer, and roast for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle with the chopped rosemary. Toss the cauliflower with the herb and rearrange it so that the browned sides are facing up, and return it to the oven. Roast an additional 15 minutes.
While the cauliflower is roasting, bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta according to package directions.
Once the pasta has been in the water for a few minutes, heat a glug or two of olive oil over medium heat in a skillet large enough to eventually hold the cauliflower and the pasta together. Add the garlic and sauté, stirring, until the wonderful aroma of garlic fills the kitchen. Add the anchovy paste and break it up with the back of a spoon—it will dissolve into the garlic and oil. Add the drained figs and cook until the pan is dry. Add a little of the fig soaking water, and cook again until the pan is dry.
By now the cauliflower should be done roasting—remove it from the oven and add it to the skillet, along with most of the mint (reserve about 1 T.). Toss everything together and add more of the fig water if it looks dry. Turn off heat if the pasta’s not ready yet.
Before draining the pasta, reserve ½ cup of the cooking water to finish the dish. When pasta is cooked to your liking, drain (it’s ok if it’s still fairly wet) and toss it into the skillet over low heat. Stir everything together, adding more fig water and/or pasta cooking water until a light sauce forms. Serve with toasted pine nuts, reserved mint, and fleur de sel sprinkled over each bowl.