Comfort pasta with cauliflower

One of my favorite pasta dishes is also the most comforting: pasta with cauliflower, pasta al cavolfiore. It has that subtle blend of sweetness and substance that marks so many American comfort foods: rice pudding, vanilla ice cream, mashed potatoes, meatloaf, cream gravy, here in the South, biscuits and grits. Pasta al cavolfiore has more taste than color – another curious comfort characteristic. Delicious, satisfying, quick and simple to make, it’s strictly speaking a fall or winter pasta, but this is a blog, so who’s speaking strictly? In fact, if you don’t have spaghetti, use the pasta you have, just make sure it’s all of the same kind. [For a tale of lost cauliflowers, see an earlier blog.]

Pasta al Cavolfiore for 4
½ head of cauliflower
spaghetti or other long pasta (3/4 of a standard package)
handful of black olives
2 cloves garlic
salt (handful)
pepper
olive oil
chopped parsley
optional – 2T pine nuts (toasted or sauteed lightly in olive oil for a stronger taste)
parmigiano for grating

Cut the cauliflower half in about 3 pieces Remove most of tough stems. Start a large pot of water to boil with a handful of salt. Meanwhile cut the pits out of the black olives. Set the olives aside. Drop the cauliflower in the boiling water and boil, partly covered, until nearly tender. Meanwhile, sauté garlic in a large frying pan with about 3 T olive oil. Remove cauliflower, cut it in a few more pieces and add to garlic and oil.

Add pasta to the same boiling water. As the pasta cooks, be cutting the cauliflower in the pan a little more (a spatula is good for this), adding a ladle or so of the pasta water so the cauliflower doesn’t stick. As it cooks it will apart into little bitty flowerlets. This is good. Partly cover, adding pasta water as needed, but keeping the water level below that of the disintegrating cauliflower. You want the result to look like a lumpy cream.

When pasta is al dente, drain well and add to the cauliflower. Add black olives, pepper and drizzle in some more olive oil. Mix lightly. Heat together over low flame, covered, for a minute or so. Garnish with parsley and pine nuts (or not). Pass the parmigiano. Eat and feel good.

Leftovers? You can make a great frittata.

Beat a couple eggs with salt and pepper. Chop the pasta a bit. Saute in olive oil. Make it level in the pan. Pour the beaten eggs evenly over the pasta and cook slowly, covered. You may add more parmigiano if you like. Flip either carefully or with abandon, depending on your skill. Cut in wedges and enjoy.

Pamela Schoenewaldt, historical novels of immigration and the search for self in new worlds: WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS, SWIMMING IN THE MOON, and UNDER THE SAME BLUE SKY (all HarperCollins).

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“Absorbing and layered with rich historical details, in Under the Same Blue Sky, Schoenewaldt weaves a tender and at times, heartbreaking story about German-Americans during World War I. With remarkable compassion, the author skillfully portrays conflicted loyalties, the search for belonging, the cruelty of war, and the resilience of the human spirit.”—Ann Weisgarber, author of The Promise and The Personal History of Rachel Dupree

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