While I consider nearly every meal I make an opportunity for recipe development, sometimes the food I cook for myself at home when nobody is watching is, well, not very impressive. It can feel too simple, too beige or too boring to ever see the light of day. I lovingly refer to those dishes as “personal dinners.”
Dishes like this creamy cauliflower pasta fall into the “personal dinner” category. But after careful consideration, I have determined that it’s too wonderful not to publish. It’s not much to look at — a pretty simple, certainly beige, not-at-all-boring skillet pasta. And yet I no longer feel embarrassed to share. Creamy cauliflower pasta, I love you, and I don’t care who knows it!
This pasta does not compromise. It’s comfort food, but also mostly vegetables. It’s complex, but quick. Sure, there might be an entire cup of heavy cream involved — I believe that if you’re going to go for it, you should really go for it — but there’s an entire head of cauliflower, too. There’s creamy richness, but there’s also salty crunch (from pecorino bread crumbs, which are made in the same skillet, thankyouverymuch). There’s deep savory flavor from lightly caramelized shallot, but also a light breeze from lemon zest and chopped chives.
If it wasn’t already obvious, I will come clean now and tell you that yes, this is essentially a more evolved version of macaroni and cheese. That said, the cauliflower content is so high that I felt the recipe deserved a different title, so here we are.
The technique is also a little less scary, in that there is really no technique. No building of a separate sauce, no thickening of a roux. Just sliced or chopped cauliflower sautéed until lightly golden and simmered with a bit of cream and grated cheese. It’s used to coat large tubes of al dente pasta, and is topped with those crisped golden-brown bread crumbs.
This pasta is best eaten straight from the skillet with one fork, but that directive is negotiable. It is, after all, your personal dinner.
And to Drink …
This creamy cauliflower pasta, with a piquant touch of pecorino, calls for a dry, incisive white wine, which will cut through the richness of the dish while refreshing the mouth. That offers plenty of choices, from simple and cheap to complex and expensive. Myriad unoaked Italian white wines will do the job, but something a little more expensive, like a good Etna Bianco made with the carricante grape, would be delicious. Dry, linear grüner veltliners from Austria have an herbal touch that would go well, as would unoaked chardonnays, whether inexpensive Mâcon-Villages or pricier Chablis. You could try a good sauvignon blanc, made in a dry, minerally style, or a chenin blanc from the Anjou region of the Loire Valley. Feeling bold? Serve this with fino sherry. ERIC ASIMOV
By ALISON ROMAN