Last year I had the most amazing, unexpectedly delightful pasta at delfina in San Francisco. It was so memorable that I even made a return visit to San Francisco AND to delfina to experience it all over again. The dish had such a unique spicy, salty, crunchy combination that came as total surprise to me – especially in the form of pasta.
And honestly, I wouldn’t have thought of cauliflower & pasta as a match made in heaven. I usually think of cauliflower as mushy and blah, but this dish takes cauliflower to a whole new level.
Last Friday I made my best attempt to recreate this dish as a solo supper, and I was really ecstatic about the way it turned out. So ecstatic that I actually ate two huge bowls of it. For health.
Spicy Cauliflower & Pancetta Pasta
1 cup coarse bread crumbs (I used italian bread crumbs from Whole Foods, but you can easily use stale bread to make these)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 head cauliflower cut into 1-2 inch pieces (I like my pieces really small)
1/4 lb sliced pancetta, chopped (1 cup)
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
3/4 lb dried whole wheat angel hair (or substitute any dried pasta of choice)
1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Bring a large pot of salty water to boil for the pasta. I steamed the cauliflower in a basket over the pasta water, but if you don’t have the equipment then you can easily boil the cauliflower in the pasta water. Remove & set aside after two minutes.
In a large heavy skillet, heat 1 and a half tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat, then add the bread crumbs. Toast, stirring often, until golden and slightly crisp. Remove to a small bowl and wipe the skillet clean.
Cook the pancetta in the same skillet over medium-high heat a few minutes until the fat renders, then add the cauliflower pieces, garlic, red pepper flakes and a good pinch of salt. Cook, stirring only very occasionally, until the pancetta is crisp and the cauliflower is caramelized and golden.
In the meantime, cook the pasta until al dente, reserving a cup of pasta water. Drain and add pasta to the skillet, tossing to combine. Then add the breadcrumbs (I didn’t use all of mine). Lastly, add olive oil and pasta water as needed to achieve a rich, slightly creamy consistency.
Serve with chopped Italian parsley & a nice heaping serving of parmesan cheese.