We had originally planned to have steak for dinner, but I was feeling tired and steak sounded like a lot of work to eat, so we did a little menu rearrangement. We had bought a cauliflower with the intention of making Pasta al Cavolfiore, a comforting Moosewood standby from our college days, and it was just the thing for my mood. My husband used to make this for me when we were first going out, and I find it soothing.
Because this is a recipe from the 1977 Moosewood Cookbook, a book that could have been commissioned by the Eat More Cheese Association, it’s less of an Italian pasta dish and more like a vat of cauliflower cheese with some pasta and tomato thrown in. You don’t really have to add as much cheese as the recipe says to – it would still taste great – but I admit a lot of the appeal here is the dense richness of the cheesy pasta, studded with tart bits of cauliflower and herb. We do veer away from the Moosewood vegetarian standard by adding some chunks of seared kielbasa, which adds a nice smokiness, as well as heft.
We never seem to make less than a full recipe of this stuff, even though it takes us days to eat the leftovers. I should mention that this is one of the few things that doesn’t really work with a fried egg on top. Yes, I tried it.
Pasta al Cavalfiore
adapted from (the old version of) The Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 large cauliflower, broken into bite-size pieces
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tsp dried basil, or 1 Tbsp fresh julienned basil
- 2 cups or 1 large can tomato puree or crushed tomato
- salt and pepper
- 2 cups grated cheese, Parmesan or Cheddar or a blend
- 1 kielbasa or other smoked sausage
- 1 lb pasta (we like penne)
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and bay leaf, and the basil if using dried. Saute for a minute, then add the cauliflower, salt lightly and saute, adding water if necessary, until the cauliflower is tender. If using fresh basil (we often get those bundles of hydroponic basil this time of year, it’s wonderful having it fresh) add it now. Add the tomato and simmer 15 minutes or so.
If adding kielbasa, slice the sausage thickly and arrange the pieces in a nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Sear, turning once, until the pieces are hot and slightly caramelized. Set aside.
Cook the pasta until just done, reserving some of the water before draining. Stir the pasta into the cauliflower-tomato sauce, adding a bit of the pasta water if it seems too thick. Stir in the cheese, and the kielbasa if using. Serve right away.