Saturday, January 31, 2009

never craved cauliflower? you will now.

a few years ago, we discovered roasted cauliflower.
before then, cauliflower had always been that white vegetable
served raw
and often overlooked 
on supermarket crudites platters, 
beside a container of ranch or blue cheese dips.

but then, a friend mentioned to me 
how amazing most vegetables can become once roasted
and for some reason
boring cauliflower was the first thing that i thought of.

in the oven it morphs from a crunchy and somewhat bland veggie
into its sophisticated cousin: incredibly sweet, beautifully caramelized 
and so tender, it can only be thought of as a gourmet vegetable. 
and so, roasted cauliflower became a favorite.

 a while back, i watched tyler florence
demo a delicious looking spaghetti that boasted
golden cauliflower,
pine nuts.
but for some reason (some silly, silly reason)
i forgot about it and continued roasting away.

and then, spurred by a ridiculous sale,
(i bought the biggest head of cauliflower 
i've ever seen in my life for $1.49),
and a cabinet clean out that made me realize 
we were the proud owners of three (three!) boxes of golden raisins,
i remembered.

this was three-quarters of that giant head of cauliflower. when i started running out of room to cut, i realized it was time to put down the knife, back away and learn to love snacking on leftover white,  bland, crunchy veggies.

the method is slightly different than plopping them on
a baking sheet 
and sticking
them in the oven.
all this takes is a pan and a burner,
to first steam
and then caramelize,
but the results are just as good,
if not, maybe even a little better.

it looked delicious, as is, but we made some changes:
first, spaghetti is all well and good
for those of you with
the ability to
use a fork without
leaving a trail of your
meal all over the table,
but for me, 
spazzy person that i am,
i like nab-them-on-the-first-try pastas,
like rigatoni,
and my new favorite, used here,

i also, and i know that this is
have a very strong aversion 
to parsley.
so i left the recommended
1/2 cup of the chopped leaves out,
but feel free
to stir those in at the end.

to add a little extra sweetness and to capitalize on our new found wealth, i upped the raisins to closer to a half a cup. i also ended up squeezing in extra lemon juice because it really does wonders to brighten the dish. 

because we really love the dark parts of the cooked cauliflower best, i cut my florets extra small. this increases the surface area that touches the hot pan and decreases the center, which will not be directly exposed to the heat. if you like larger pieces, go for it. when you cook the florets, let them get decently dark. it's hard to appreciate their deliciousness when they're not boasting an abundance of spots. 

at this point, the florets were softened and tender, but not really sweet. when it looks like this, you probably have at least 10 minutes left in the caramelizing process.

another piece of advice, to reduce the amount of olive oil used (the original recipe calls for 1/2 cup), i opted to coat the panko with olive oil spray. a good idea - it totally works, they still come out golden and add unbeatable texture to the finished dish. however, a word of advice if you're like me and don't necessarily think these things through: light as can be breadcrumbs + powerized air = major cleanup. make sure to insulate the panko before spraying, otherwise, you're sure to find the tiny breadcrumbs for weeks to come. um, sorry, larry.

this is the color you're looking for from the baked panko

Sauteed Pasta with Cauliflower, Raisins and Panko
oh, i just realized i didn't mention the anchovies. please don't let them stop you from making this dish. i used anchovy paste instead of chopped fillets. the paste makes it even easier for the flavor enhancer to meld with the olive oil, providing a unique saltiness that is hard to match. most people will not even know you used it. promise.

1 pound pasta
1/4 cup pine nuts
3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. anchovy paste
1 head cauliflower, cored and cut into small florets
1 tsp. anchovy paste (or more to taste)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1/2 lemon, juiced (or more to taste)
Freshly grated Parm

Heat oven to 350˚F. Bring a large saucepot of water to a boil; cook and drain pasta according to package directions. In small skillet, over medium-low heat, toast pine nuts; shaking occasionally and keeping a close eye to prevent burning. Hint: if you start to smell them, take the skillet off the heat immediately. Set aside. Cook and drain pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, in the largest skillet you have (I used 14"), warm olive oil over medium heat. Add anchovy paste and cauliflower and cook 2 minutes, or until the mixture starts to sizzle. Add 1/4 cup of water, sprinkle with kosher salt and toss the mixture. Cover and steam for 5 minutes, or until the cauliflower is somewhat tender. Remove the lid, crank up the heat to medium-high and let cook about 15 minutes, or until the cauliflower has deeply caramelized. 

Meanwhile, in bowl, toss the panko with olive oil cooking spray (or drizzle with olive oil, if desired) and a sprinkling of kosher salt; spread out on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown, shaking pan occassionally.

Add cooked pasta, toasted pine nuts and raisins to cauliflower mixture in skillet; let cook 30 seconds. Stir in lemon juice. Transfer pasta to serving bowls; sprinkle with toasted Panko and grated Parm.

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