Have you noticed how cauliflower is kind of hot right now? I have, and I admit I almost never make it. I tend to conjure up the image of a bad veggie tray with bad ranch dressing when I think of cauliflower. But then, I remembered making this pasta dish a few times, and it’s delicious and has cauliflower in it. It’s from Lidia Bastianich’s cookbook that my family gave me for Christmas one year. It’s rustic, humble and just a beautiful pasta dish. Orecchiette with Pancetta, Cauliflower and Bread Crumbs. I love it.
If my memory serves me right, I think I saw her make this on a PBS cooking show. She referred to it as a peasant dish, I believe. Instead of using grated cheese, it calls for fine bread crumbs to thicken the sauce, which would have been a frugal choice over expensive cheese. I used panko and then sprinkled some grated Parmesan on top of the finished dish.
This pasta dish has few ingredients so quality really matters. Use a good olive oil, homemade chicken stock, a good dried pasta, uncured Italian pancetta and, of coarse, a fresh cauliflower that’s free of blemishes. I started with the amounts called for in the recipe and then adjusted as needed, mine needing more chicken stock. I also had some fresh oregano, so I added that. It’s fine without it, so no worries if you don’t have fresh oregano.
I had half a head of cauliflower left over. Last night, we sliced it up, tossed it on a sheet pan and drizzled some olive oil all over with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper, some crushed red pepper and a hit of curry powder. We roasted it in the oven until tender, and man, crazy good stuff. I am definitely on the cauliflower bandwagon. Try this pasta, you’ll love it, and you definitely won’t be thinking of the lowly veggie tray.
Best ~ Kelly
Orecchiette with Pancetta, Cauliflower and Bread Crumbs
Cavatelli con Pancetta e Cavolfiore
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Three ¼-inch slices pancetta, cut into 1 X ¼ X ¼-inch strips (Or, like I did, 4-ounces thinly sliced pancetta, cut into roughly 1-inch strips. Just stack the pancetta and roughly chop.)
- 1 pound dried orecchiette pasta (or cavatelli or cavatappi)
- 2 medium onions, diced (about 2 cups)
- ½ head cauliflower, florets cut into ½-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
- Crushed red pepper
- 1½ cups hot chicken stock, to start, more may be needed (I used about another ½ cup)
- ¼ cup fine, dry bread crumbs, or as needed (I used panko)
- ¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- Grated Parmesan cheese for serving
- Optional: 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Careful not to burn and/or overcook the pancetta.
- Stir pasta into the water and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 10 to 11 minutes.
- Stir onions into skillet and cook for two minutes, until barely softened. Add the cauliflower and cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted and starting to brown, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and a little crushed red pepper.
- Pour in chicken stock and bring to a boil, then lower heat to keep at a steady simmer. Cook until vegetables are tender and liquid is reduced by about one-half, about 5 minutes.
- Add the drained pasta to the skillet and bring sauce and pasta to a boil, stirring to coat the pasta. Check for salt and adjust seasoning if necessary. Stir in the bread crumbs, parsley and oregano, and 2 more tablespoons of olive oil. Cook, stirring, until sauce is of desired consistency, adding more stock or bread crumbs as needed. Drizzle a little olive oil and some grated Parmesan over the top and serve.
*Adapted rom Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen