Winter in southern Arizona is… different than winter in most other parts of North America. It’s a time when us desert dwellers step out of our houses, stretch our legs, and go for a hike amongst the tall saguaros; a time when eating breakfast on the patio is not only bearable, but stupidly enjoyable; a time when friends from colder parts of the continent cycle through our otherwise-unused guest rooms. (Don’t be too jealous–we spent all of summer and the better half of fall running from air conditioned stores to air conditioned houses to air conditioned cars.) Another perk? The warm winter weather allows local farmers continue to harvesting fresh produce throughout the season. Dark leafy greens, zippy citrus, and hearty vegetables like cauliflower and kohlrabi are readily available at local farmers’ markets and CSAs from December through March. Arizona farmers’ ability to grow all year around makes it much easier for me to source local produce during a time when most of the country is buried under snow. It also makes it easier to make this Roasted Cauliflower Pasta with Garlicky Breadcrumbs–which, let’s be honest, is itself a serious perk of Tucson’s warm winters.
I feel very passionately about pasta. In fact, I consisted of about 90% buttered penne until the age of 10. So, I mean it when I say that the lemon-and-parsley-coated cauliflower is the star of this Roasted Cauliflower Pasta with Garlicky Breadcrumbs. I mean it when I say that the rustic almond breadcrumbs, coated with garlic oil and toasted to crunchy perfection, make pasta seem boring in comparison. The pasta is great, don’t get me wrong. It’s as carb-y, toothsome, and comforting as ever. But, buried beneath golden brown florets of perfectly roasted cauliflower, generous handfuls of salty breadcrumbs, and a magical dusting of nutty Parmesan cheese, you almost forget it’s there. What the pasta in this dish does do, is hold everything together. It catches the flavorful breadcrumbs in its crevices, coats itself in snowy Parmesan, and allows each piece of nutty roasted cauliflower to sing on its stage.
This Roasted Cauliflower Pasta with Garlicky Breadcrumbs (a.k.a. your new favorite lunch, dinner, and midnight snack) was inspired by a roasted cauliflower recipe in Ina Garten’s cookbook, How Easy is That?. It is, indeed, easy. The recipe asks that you roast a large head’s worth of cauliflower florets with plenty of garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper. When the florets are golden brown and tender, you simply toss the caramelized bits with fresh lemon juice, finely chopped parsley, and toasted pine nuts. What I love about this recipe is that the cauliflower isn’t disguised–it isn’t hidden in a faux alfredo sauce, pulsed into cauliflower “rice,” or mushed it into a pizza crust. Instead, the nutty cauliflower becomes the star of the show–whole, distinguished, and unarguably delicious.
Let’s talk about the “garlicky breadcrumbs” part of Roasted Cauliflower Pasta with Garlicky Breadcrumbs. To make them, you don’t reach into a bag of panko. You certainly don’t blend up a piece of wonder bread. And yet, making these garlicky breadcrumbs doesn’t take much more effort than doing either of those things. All you need to make the breadcrumbs of your dreams is ten minutes and a few high quality ingredients. Sauté some thinly sliced garlic (by “some,” I mean eight cloves) in a little olive oil, add some finely chopped bread (I used a stale slice of pain au levain from my local baker) and almonds, sprinkle in a a few big pinches of salt, grind in a little freshly cracked pepper, and toast everything together until you have a pan of crunchy, fragrant, golden brown breadcrumbs. Toss them in a shredded kale salad. Sprinkle (dump?) them over a bowl of steamed veggies. Eat them by the spoonful, if you so please. But, whatever you do, use your garlicky breadcrumbs to make a mountainous bowl of Roasted Cauliflower Pasta with Garlicky Breadcrumbs. And, every once in a while, be sure to ask yourself if you’re living your fullest life–a life with a bowl of outrageously good pasta topped with heaping handfuls of garlicky breadcrumbs.
- 1 Large Head of Cauliflower, cut into small florets
- ½ Cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, divided
- 2 Teaspoons Sea Salt, plus more to taste
- 1 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper, plus more to taste
- ¼ Cup Fresh Parsley, finely chopped
- 2 Tablespoons Fresh Lemon Juice
- 8 Medium-Sized Cloves of Garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
- ⅓ Cup Almonds, finely chopped
- 1 Heaping Cup of Breadcrumbs, from one large piece of rustic bread
- ½ Cup Grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
- 1 Pound of Organic Shaped Pasta (I used Casarecce)
- Heat the oven to 450º.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat.
- Place the cauliflower florets on a large baking sheet. Toss the cauliflower with ¼ cup of olive oil, 2 teaspoons of sea salt, and 1 teaspoon of pepper until each floret is evenly coated with oil and spices.
- Roast the cauliflower for 8 minutes.
- Toss the cauliflower and turn the oven temperature down to 400º.
- Roast the cauliflower for another 8 minutes.
- Toss the cauliflower again and roast for another 4-8 minutes, or until it is tender and the edges are golden brown. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and toss the cauliflower with the lemon juice and parsley.
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions and make the breadcrumbs.
- Heat ¼ cup of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced garlic and sauté for 30 seconds.
- Add the breadcrumbs, chopped almonds, and two pinches of sea salt and stir everything together. Toast the breadcrumbs until they're golden brown and fragrant, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from the heat.
- Drain the pasta and pour it back into the cooking pot.
- Scrape the roasted cauliflower and any juices on the baking sheet into the pot, along with the breadcrumbs (reserving about 2 tablespoons for topping) and Parmesan cheese. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed.
- Serve in bowls with extra parmesan and breadcrumbs on top.