Quickest Weekday Meal

Unlike most people, I really do enjoy eating cauliflower. I know, half of you aren’t even going to finish this paragraph. But, stick with me, people, this will be worth it.

The problem with cauliflower is that I never use an entire head of it before it goes bad. (I’m too cheap to buy the pre-cut bits wrapped in plastic.) So, imagine the sighing that occurred when I got a head of cauliflower in my veggie basket last week. “Such a shame,” I thought. “This is going to really stink up my fridge.”

Enter Lidia Bastianich to the rescue! Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen contains a recipe that will use up most of your cauliflower in one go. The best part is that it is one of those deceptively simple recipes. The kind that you could make on a weekday night, look back and say, “Well, this didn’t take that long at all.”

Cavatelli with Bread Crumbs, Pancetta, and Cauliflower

She says it serves six, but I think it’s more like eight when all is said and done.

  • Salt
  • ¼ C extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Three ¼-inch slices pancetta, cut into 1x¼x¼-inch sticks (I didn’t have time to get pancetta, so I just used about 8 oz of cubed prosciutto.)
  • 1 lb dried cavatelli, cavatappi, or shells (I went with shells because that’s what I had.)
  • 2 medium onions, diced (about 2 C)
  • ½ head cauliflower, stalks removed, florets cut into ½-inch pieces (I used more like ¾ head.)
  • Crushed hot red pepper
  • 1½ C hot chicken stock
  • ¼ C fine, dry bread crumbs
  • ¼ C chopped fresh parsley (skipped this one since I had none)

Bring 6 qts of salted water to boil in an 8-quart pot over high heat. (Yes, you will need the big pot. Trust Lidia on this one.)

Heat 2 T olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta has rendered some of its fat and is lightly browned but still soft in the center, about 4 minutes. Don’t overcook the pancetta.

Stir the pasta into the boiling water. (Lidia gives instructions for cooking, but I just followed the package instructions. Since my pasta only took 8 minutes, I threw it in right before I put in the cauliflower.)

Stir the onions into the skillet and cook until barely wilted, about 2 minutes. Stir in the cauliflower and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is wilted and begins to brown, about 4 minutes. (This step will take longer if you’ve crowded your pan.) Season lightly with salt and a little crushed red pepper.

Pour the chicken stock into the skillet, bring to a boil, and lower the heat so the sauce is at a lively simmer. Cook until the vegetables are tender and the liquid is reduced by about half, about 5 minutes.

If the skillet is large enough to accommodate the sauce and pasta (mine was not), fish the pasta out of the boiling water with a large wire skimmer and drop it directly into the sauce in the skillet. If not, drain the pasta, return it to the pot, and pour in the sauce. Bring the sauce and pasta to a boil, tossing and stirring to coat the pasta. Check the seasoning, adding salt if necessary.

Stir in the breadcrumbs (a little at a time so they can absorb some of the liquid, but you don’t over breadcrumb the sauce), parsley, and remaining 2 T olive oil into the pot.

Cook, stirring and tossing the pasta until the sauce is lightly thickened. Serve at once.


Pasta and cauliflower

So, I guess my version should really be called: Shells with Bread Crumbs, Prosciutto, and Cauliflower. At any rate, it took me around a half an hour to throw this all together. Paul and I had a ton of leftovers and it heats up rather nicely for lunch the next day. And, if you cut the cauliflower small enough, you might be able to sneak the veggie past certain children (and adults).


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