I was recently reminded me of why I unabashedly (okay, maybe a little abashedly) stole Smitten Kitchen’s “one year ago” idea (although all the cool kids are doing it these days it seems). I’ve had this pasta recipe bookmarked since she posted it, and every week when I plan my meals, I consider it, and then pass over it. I didn’t realize I’d been doing this for an entire year until I saw this recipe featured from one year ago.
Seriously, I love pasta, and we eat it one or twice a week. Also, cauliflower? My favorite vegetable, ever since I was a kid. And quick vegetarian meals are our standard weeknight fare. And, I’ve been meaning to try ricotta salata for ages. I was outrageously overdue for making this recipe.
But, when I finally made it, I thought it had a lot more potential than it did flavor. The problem is that the recipe’s original author, Alice Waters, took a very easygoing, flexible route with the recipe, providing only approximate ingredient quantities and no recommended cooking times.
In a nutshell, the cauliflower is pan-roasted, then onions and crushed red pepper are added, then garlic, then lemon juice, white wine vinegar, and toasted walnuts. All of that is mixed with pasta and soft cheese. It’s a nice combination of ingredients and you’d be hard-pressed to make it bad, but ‘not bad’ is generally not my goal for food.
The next time I made it, in an effort to bump up the flavor, I decreased the pasta significantly. (You could also think of it as increasing the cauliflower, onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, and walnuts.) I’ve also quantified things. Willy-nilly, splash of this, pinch of that recipes drive me crazy and usually end up underseasoned.
Other than the ratio of pasta to everything else, the recipe really isn’t so different from the original. And hopefully it’s reproducible now, so you can have the exact same spicy, fresh flavor from this dish that I enjoyed.
Whole Wheat Pasta with Cauliflower, Walnuts and Ricotta Salata (from Chez Panisse Vegetables via Smitten Kitchen)
10 ounces whole-wheat pasta
½ cup walnuts
1 tablespoon olive oil (not extra virgin)
2 small heads cauliflower, cut into 1.5-inch florets
1 large or 2 small onions, sliced very thin
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon salt, plus more for the pasta cooking water
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 ounces ricotta salata, chopped
extra virgin olive oil, for serving (optional)
1. Bring 3 to 4 quarts water to a rapid boil over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta. Cook according to package instructions. Before draining the cooked pasta, put about 1 cup pasta cooking water in a separate bowl and set aside. After draining the pasta, return it to the cooking pot.
2. Meanwhile, toast the walnuts in a large, not nonstick pan over medium heat until fragrant. Put the walnuts in a small bowl and set aside.
3. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in the same pan over medium heat. When hot, add cauliflower and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4-5 minutes. Add onions, red pepper, salt, and black pepper. Continue cooking and stirring until the onions are softened and the cauliflower is crisp-tender. Stir in the garlic, then immediately remove the pan from the heat. Add the lemon juice, walnuts, and cheese.
4. Stir the cauliflower mixture into the pasta. Add enough of the reserved pasta cooking water to moisten the mixture. Adjust the seasonings to taste and serve, garnishing each plate with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, if desired.