Looking for a tasty, meatless meal you can put on the table in 30 minutes? Well then I have a meal for you! Tender, browned cauliflower is tossed with toasted bread crumbs and pine nuts and served with orecchiette to make an easy, quick, and satisfying vegetarian dinner.
Recently, when I was making dinner, I thought cauliflower plus orecchiette and pine nuts would make a great vegetarian dinner. (Along with some shallots and garlic – since it’s not dinner without garlic!) So, I went to the store, picked up the ingredients, tossed it together, and it was indeed dinner, but it wasn’t great. I wanted great!
And I certainly wasn’t going to share it with all of you until it was great. 🙂
I eat the middling dinners during recipe testing so you don’t have to!
After a bit more thought, I realized that the cauliflower needed both some sort of crunchy texture and more browning.
Browning makes flavor and, as anyone who has made roasted vegetables knows, it’s an excellent way to transform vegetables from blah to amazing! I didn’t want to turn on the oven and use another pan, so I browned the cauliflower right in the skillet after I gave it quick braise. That was step one in my ‘increase flavor’ plan.
The second part of my plan involved the crunchy texture. One favorite way of mine to make a simple pasta dish when I don’t have much in the house is to toast up bread crumbs and toss them with the pasta. The flavor and crunch of the bread crumbs changes a very plain pasta and olive oil into dinner. I had a feeling that toasted bread crumbs would make all the difference here too!
They did! Browning the cauliflower gave them an extra punch of flavor and then the bread crumbs turned the dish from something you eat because you are hungry into something eat because it’s so darn good that you want it for dinner.
A few things about the recipe:
- I like the cauliflower cut into fairly small pieces. I think that works best with the shape of pasta.
- Don’t forget to scoop out the pasta water! This is something I do all the time and it makes all the difference. You need to marry the pasta to the sauce.
- Use fresh bread crumbs. Dried bread crumbs are too crunchy for the recipe. I make my own from ends of bread and keep them in the freezer.
– Happy Pasta Night, Annemarie
Orecchiette with Cauliflower and Pine Nuts
Toasted Bread Crumbs
- 1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs
- 3-4 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- kosher salt to taste
- 10 oz orecchiette
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1 head cauliflower cut into bite-sized florets
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 medium shallots finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 14- oz can chickpeas drained and rinsed
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
- For the toasted bread crumbs: Add the bread crumbs to a large skillet over medium heat. Pour in 3 tbsp olive oil and stir to combine, adding a bit more if needed. Continue cooking the bread crumbs until they are golden brown and toasted, 3-4 minutes. Add the parsley and salt to taste, then set the bread crumbs aside.
- For the pasta: Begin heating a large pot of well salted water. Once it has come to a boil, add the orecchiette and cook according to the package directions. Scoop out one cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta.
- Meanwhile, heat another large skillet (or the same one for the bread crumbs, just transfer the bread crumbs to a bowl and wipe down the skillet) over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and toast them in the skillet, stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes. Transfer them to a bowl for later.
- Add the cauliflower to the hot skillet along with 1/4 cup water. Bring the water to a boil on medium high, then cover the skillet for 5 minutes, or until the cauliflower is crisp-tender. Uncover the skillet, reduce the heat to medium, and add the olive oil and butter. Once the butter has melted, saute for 3-4 minutes to brown the cauliflower. Then, add the kosher salt, shallots, garlic and chickpeas. Saute for another 2-3 minutes.
- Add the cooked pasta to the skillet, along with about 1/2 cup of the pasta water, and the lemon juice. Cook, stirring frequently, until the pasta water is mostly absorbed and you have thick sauce which clings to the pasta. Add more pasta water if needed. Take the skillet off the heat and toss the pasta with the bread crumbs, toasted pine nuts, and parmesan cheese.
- Serve with more parmesan cheese at the table.