Easy Roasted Cauliflower Pasta

by R.B. Quinn and Min Merrell
how to make cauliflower pasta sauce

Roasted Cauliflower Pasta, while wonderfully delicious, also forever ends panic with vegetarian friends come for dinner.  Omnivores have meat-centered dishes galore–braised short ribs when it’s cold, steaks, chops, and loins on the grill, plus burgers and sausages. Then there’s crock pots of pulled pork shoulder and chicken, and then smoky oven brisket. And salmon. Roast chicken and turkey. A dinner plan for fellow meat eaters is never a job.

Dinner for guests with any range of political, medical, or personal food preferences can be a fun challenge. We all want to please our guests, to feed them with care, and this can require some thought. 

We lean on pasta for the meatless. But, this time we’re not falling back on spinach lasagna, sautéed cherry tomatoes tangled up in angel hair pasta, or a too-rich fettuccine Alfredo. We’re serving a heady roasted cauliflower pasta inspired by the Italian classic. It’s a perfect dish for a cool transitional month before the summer bounty of vegetables. No need for a tomato sauce, either.

Roasted cauliflower pasta requires a few simple steps, most of which can be done ahead of time. Even better, it’s the one time when overcooked cauliflower is best. Don’t boil it, instead of roast it in the oven (or on the grill) until golden brown flecks appear and a creamy texture develops. Mash it up with sautéed onions and garlic, and salty anchovies (am packed with umami). A splash or two of starchy, briny pasta water pulls it all together. Now you’ve got a sauce that really grabs onto the hot-cooked pasta.

roasted cauliflower pasta

The traditional recipe is served either with just a dusting of parmesan cheese or dressed up with pine nuts, raisins, and toasted bread crumbs. We further adorn the pasta’s “greige” palette (or, “gray-beige” as we learned while watching Oscar night fashion commentary) with a colorful, crisp vegetable or two. This time it’s mushrooms, red bell pepper, and zucchini.

Lastly, set a handful of salty-tangy salad greens on each pasta. You’ve seen this “cold-with-hot” before. Think crunchy Asian noodle bowls dressed with lettuce and bean sprouts or wood oven pizzas topped with fresh peppery arugula. Even a hot dog crowned with slaw or tacos packed with pico de gallo and iceberg count. The salad provides everything the cauliflower pasta doesn’t have—cool, crisp, tangy. Serve freshly grated parmesan or pecorino at the table and you’ve got a pasta to please everyone.

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