Though I long ago overcame most of my childhood vegetable aversions (asparagus, eggplant, avocados, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchini—oh, how I hated zucchini!), I only recently reached a conciliatory fork out to that pale, strangely textured supermarket staple known as cauliflower. And you know what? I liked it! Of course, it was no ordinary cauliflower preparation that won over my taste buds. This was cauliflower a la Lupa, Mario Batali’s crazy-popular Roman trattoria in the West Village, where we always go assuming we won’t be able to get a seat, but sometimes, miraculously, manage to snag a couple stools at the bar.
The cauliflower was pureed, creating a delicious and subtly flavored coating for their housemade pasta. In my version of the dish, I like to use orecchiette, whose concave shape is perfect for capturing bits of tasty sauce. Toasted walnuts add crunch and a welcome nuttiness; a generous sprinkle of parsley livens up the monochromatic appearance.
ORECCHIETTE WITH CAULIFLOWER AND WALNUTS
1 head cauliflower, cleaned, trimmed, and cut into florets
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
1 can low-sodium chicken broth
1 pound orecchiette
Hot pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
Plenty of grated Parmigiano (1-1.5 cups)
1/2 cups chopped, toasted walnuts
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
Put pasta water on to boil. Sauté shallot and garlic in olive oil. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes, broth, and cauliflower. Simmer until cauliflower is quite tender, about 15 minutes. Cook pasta. Mash cauliflower mixture well with a potato masher, season with salt and pepper. If it is too watery, simmer down a bit. Toss pasta with sauce and cheese, garnish with walnuts and parsley.
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