For Bon Appetit, by Chris Morocco.
Welcome to Cooking Without Recipes, in which we teach you how to make a dish we love, but don’t worry too much about the nitty-gritty details of the recipe, so you can create your own spin. Every day this week, we’ll be bringing you a staffer’s favorite healthy-ish weeknight dinner. Today, senior food editor Chris Morocco shares a rich cauliflower-tomato sauce that’s perfect for whole grain pasta.
I am not someone who ever feels bad about eating a big bowl of pasta for dinner. But I feel downright virtuous when that pasta is whole-wheat. It’s a win-win, since I get the whole-grain experience of, let’s say, farro, in a fraction of the time that it would take me to cook whole farro. And I can twirl it on a fork.
That said, I’ve noticed that simply putting my usual homemade (okay, fine, it’s store-bought Rao’s) tomato sauce on it just doesn’t work because whole-grain pasta is so nutty and intense that it drowns out whatever flavors you add. But if you trade in marinara for a stronger sauce, like a puttanesca or amatriciana, suddenly it’s balanced.
At this point I have to come clean — in case she happens to find this post — and say that the sauce is actually inspired by my wife, whose mom used to make something similar. The first time she cooked it for me, I thought it was a little Frankenstein. Raisins? Cauliflower? Wine? One taste, though, and I instantly understood the Sicilian flavors — pine nuts, anchovies, raisins, red wine, and tomatoes — all cooked down to a rich sauce that stands up to even the earthiest whole-grain pastas you throw at it.
Here’s the process: Cut one small head of cauliflower into florets, toss with a couple Tbsp. olive oil and some salt and pepper, then roast at 425°F until the pieces are very tender and appear dark brown in spots, about 30 to 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium-sized Dutch oven or large skillet cook 1 chopped small, yellow onion, 6 sliced garlic cloves, 1 sliced fresh red chile pepper (or ½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes), 1 2-oz. drained tin of anchovies, and 2 Tbsp. pine nuts in 3 Tbsp. olive oil until soft and very fragrant, about 10 minutes. Add ¾ cup red wine if you have some on hand and cook until reduced by half, about 4 minutes. If you don’t have wine, you can just go right to the tomatoes, adding 1 28-oz. can of lightly crushed, whole peeled tomatoes, along with 2 Tbsp. currants or raisins. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring often until tomatoes are thick and have reduced by nearly half, around 20 minutes.
While all that is going on, get your pasta water heating up. Cook 12oz. of whole-grain or farro spaghetti until very al dente (I have found it isn’t as forgiving when overcooked as regular pastas are). Drain, reserving a cup of the pasta cooking liquid. Toss the pasta into the pot or skillet with the sauce you made, along with a few splashes of the reserved pasta cooking liquid and the roasted cauliflower. Cook, tossing with a spoon, and add a splash or two more pasta liquid until the sauce begins to coat the pasta. A handful of Parm here won’t hurt anyone either, especially since you barely added any butter to this sauce—it’s already plenty rich.
Serve topped with more Parmesan and feel free to eat dessert. You just ate whole grain pasta, so you’ve earned it, right?
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