If you haven’t tried Alison Roman’s Cauliflower Pasta then you’re in for a real treat. Alison, a NY Times Best Selling Author, has come up with a wonderful pasta dish that incorporates (the once-thought dull) cauliflower.
Watching Ms. Roman’s videos is kind of like hanging out with a good friend and having them cook you Sunday lunch. She keeps it real and her recipes are simple but delicious – they don’t require hard-to-find ingredients or take hours to prepare. Through some magic of hers though, she always makes you look like a kitchen rockstar!
Cauliflower Taking Center Stage
Cauliflower hasn’t always been a popular vegetable and it might even have a worse reputation than that of broccoli for most disliked of the vegetables. Definitely healthy, Cauliflower has been found to provide antioxidants and phytonutrients that are able to help ward off cancer as well as being high in fiber and Vitamin B.
Because of this, there recently has been many recipes that have shined a light on this cream colored cousin of broccoli. While the taste can be a bit off-putting for some, it takes the right kind of recipe to make this vegetable work as a main component in a dish. And that’s exactly what Alison does with this cauliflower pasta!
We’ve made this recipe several times and here we go over some great tips to help you make this wonderfully yummy dish!
NY Times / Alison Roman’s Creamy Cauliflower Pasta with Pecorino Breadcrumbs Recipe
- 1 medium-sized head of cauliflower (approx 2 pounds), with outer leaves / stem removed, sliced in 1/2-inch thick pieces
- 6 tablespoons of olive oil
- 8 oz of rigatoni (or any pasta on hand)
- ¾ cup of panko bread crumbs
- ½ cup pecorino cheese, finely grated
- 1 large shallot, finely chopped
- 1 cup of heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest, finely grated
- ½ cup chives, finely chopped
- Red pepper flakes (optional)
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- Boil a large pot filled with salted water. Cook the pasta until al dente (about 2 minutes less than the package instructions). Drain and reserve 1 cup of the pasta water.
- Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs and season with salt and pepper. Stirring occasionally, cook until they’re evenly toasted to a golden brown (about 4- 6 minutes). Add 1/4 cup pecorino and toss to coat, letting the cheese melt and clump among the bread crumbs (like granola clusters). Remove from heat and set aside in a small bowl.
- Wipe down the skillet and heat remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add shallot / onion and cauliflower, and season with salt and lots of the black pepper. Tossing occasionally, cook until the cauliflower has completely softened and both the cauliflower and shallots are beginning to caramelize and brown (about 12-15 minutes).
- Add the heavy cream and 1 tablespoon of the lemon zest and bring to a simmer, letting the cream reduce and thicken (about 2-4 minutes). Season with salt and lots of black pepper. If the pasta is still cooking, remove from heat and set aside until the pasta is ready.
- Return the skillet to medium heat and add the cauliflower to the pasta, along with the remaining 1/4 cup of pecorino and about 3/4 cup of the pasta water. Cook while tossing to coat the pasta and thicken the sauce until it’s glossy. It should almost resemble macaroni and cheese, and you can add more pasta water by the tablespoon as needed (4-6 minutes).
- Remove from heat. Divide the pasta among bowls and top with the pecorino bread crumbs, chives, more lemon zest, red-pepper flakes (optional) and more cheese if you like.
Recipe courtesy of NY Times
1. Use an Entire Head of Cauliflower
This recipe requires the use of a whole head of cauliflower, but don’t let that sway you from making this tasty dish. Let’s say you haven’t had the best experience with cauliflower. For many of us, it seems bland, rather dull, and has a weird smell to it. This recipe takes what you think you know about cauliflower, and transforms it into a whole different beast.
When roasted it takes on a nuttier flavor, and it melts into the cheese sauce and reminds me of a healthier version of macaroni and cheese. This is a great way to get those veggies in (especially for those picky eaters.)
2. Remove the Green Stems
When preparing your cauliflower, be sure to remove the green leafy stems. The green part doesn’t break down into the sauce very well. And since they don’t break down, they won’t be a very appetizing component.
3. Slice the Cauliflower in Uniform Pieces
When cutting the cauliflower, it’s best to slice it so that you have uniform pieces (preferably as less than 1/2 inch slices). Doing so will make sure that they cook evenly. Also, make sure to breakdown the core completely. Those need to get broken up more as they don’t cook and melt down like the rest of the cauliflower.
4. Toast the Cauliflower
Make sure to cook your cauliflower until you get brown bits on the bottom of your pan. Not burnt brown bits, but toasty ones. This will help create a nuttier taste profile and it will also meld with the cream to create the sauce better. Once you add the cream to the browned cauliflower, your sauce will go from a white color to a more golden tan due to the brown bits on the bottom of the pan.
5. Roast the Cauliflower Core
Depending on your stove and / or cauliflower, you might find that the core of the cauliflower isn’t melting down like it’s supposed to. If so, you can also opt to roast it at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes in the oven. Alison prefers simmering on the stove so that you have more brown bits in the pan, but if that’s not working well, you can try throwing it into the oven.
6. Use a Bench Scraper
It makes cooking easier and helps you take cut food from the cutting board to the pan in one fell swoop. It also helps to clean your board in between cutting different foods.
7. Salt Throughout Process
Don’t wait until the end of the meal to salt. Alison recommends salting all elements of the dish throughout the process giving it layers of flavor and salt. She is sure to salt the pasta water, the cauliflower and the breadcrumbs. Salting at each step guarantees the flavor throughout the meal.
8. Substitute for Onions if you Don’t have Any Shallots
Use a shallot or onions if you them on hand. The taste of a shallot is a nice combination of a garlic and an onion and works really well in this sauce. Slice your shallot into thin slices, and you will cook them with the cauliflower.
9. Add Plenty of Breadcrumbs
This is a great crunchy salty addition to the pasta and it’s a must. They provide depth to the dish that elevates it to a fancy meal. Be sure and add some cheese when you are browning the bread crumbs and let them melt to create pieces of crunchy goodness that will later top your pasta.
10. Don’t Have Breadcrumbs? Make Your Own!
Here’s a tip for the most amazing breadcrumbs. Take stale bread and either break it up by hand into smallish pieces or put it in the food processor until it’s still a bit on the chunkier side and then you can store it in the freezer until you need them! Great use of stale bread and a great addition for larger chunks of tasty crunchy goodness in your pasta! Toast them in a pan with some olive oil and add cheese to it, they end up like granola-like nuggets of yumminess!
11. Red Pepper Flake Options
The recipe calls for red pepper flakes, which add a little heat, but if you are making this for younger kids or spice intolerant people, this can be left out of the recipe. If you have a mixed audience, you can add some at the end!
12. Add Lemon Squeeze
With a whole cup of cream and lots of cheese, the lemon helps to cut the richness of this dish and adds another flavor profile that helps to make this a very fancy and leveled-up version of macaroni and cheese. Feel free to add a squeeze of the lemon in addition to the zest.
13. Use Only One Pan
Don’t waste your pans or your time with washing more than you need to – use the same pan you use to brown your bread crumbs to cook up your cauliflower. Just wipe any remaining bread crumbs from your pan and then use the same skillet to reduce clean up!
We hope that you enjoy this recipe as much as we did. With all the tips, you will find this to be an easy meal to prep and it might end up in regular rotation in your house. We certainly know that it’s nice to be able to find a healthier alternative to straight macaroni and cheese. In fact, you can take this recipe and put your own spin on it. Add some pancetta or leafy greens. Share with us what you add to this creamy cauliflower pasta recipe to make it your own!
if you like this post, also check out the Alison Roman’s Shallot Pasta recipe post.