I've been craving opposites lately. I want pasta, but I don't want it to be heavy. I want fresh flavors, but also something savory and comforting. I want vegetables, but I want a bit of meat, too. I blame this in-between weather with its warm days and chilly nights — though I suppose I should actually be thanking the weather because it led to the creation of this dish. Pan-roasted cauliflower and ribbons of prosciutto get folded into a bright but savory tomato cream sauce with pasta. It's a perfect union of all my conflicting opposites.
I am a fiend for smoky flavors, and this dish is full of them. The cauliflower becomes caramelized and blackened in the pan — almost the point of becoming burnt. Don't fear the sear!
A second dose of smokiness comes from using fire-roasted tomatoes. If these seems a little too much for you, just use regular diced tomatoes instead. Or pick up a can of tomato puree and skip the step of pureeing it yourself.
I wasn't originally planning on the basil, but I passed a display of fresh bunches at the store and I couldn't resist a little off-season treat. It ended up adding the perfect note of brightness to the dish — and made me eager for this in-between weather to get a move on into summer.
If you're also in an opposites-attract mood, I think this dish will hit the spot. It makes enough to feed a crowd and comes together fairly quickly, so this would be a good choice if you're thinking of having friends over for dinner this week. Serve it with a crisp vinegary salad and a bright white wine or IPA, and let yourself linger at the table until the bowls are licked clean.
Pan-Roasted Cauliflower and Pasta with Tomato-Cream Sauce
1 large head cauliflower (about 2 pounds)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 pound pasta
2 14.5-oz cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes (see Recipe Note)
1 yellow onion, diced small
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch red pepper flakes
4 ounces prosciutto, sliced into ribbons
1/4 cup heavy cream
Basil, sliced into ribbons, to serve
Begin by preparing the cauliflower. Slice it into quarters and trim out the center stalk. Chop the stalks into small pieces (or discard if you prefer not to eat them). Slice each of the quarters into small florets, none bigger than a cherry tomato.
Warm a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot and shimmery, add the cauliflower and a generous sprinkle of salt. Stir to coat. Cook the cauliflower without stirring for a minute so that the bottoms start turning dark and golden. Continue cooking for 8-10 minutes total, stirring every minute or so, until the cauliflower is no longer crunchy and has developed dark seared spots all over. Transfer to a large serving bowl and set aside.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add salt and the pasta. Cook until the pasta is al dente, then drain and combine with the cauliflower in the serving bowl.
While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce. Puree the two cans of tomatoes in a blender or food processor until they are sauce-like. Set aside. Wipe the pan used to cook the cauliflower clean and heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and a sprinkle of salt. Cook until the onion is translucent and beginning to turn golden. Stir in the garlic and the red pepper flakes. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Pour the tomato sauce into the pan and stir to combine. Lower the heat to maintain a low simmer. Continue cooking the sauce until the pasta has finished cooking. When the pasta is ready, stir one handful of prosciutto at a time into the sauce to prevent it from clumping. Add the heavy cream and stir until totally combined. The sauce will turn a bright orange color. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed.
Pour the sauce over the cauliflower and the pasta in the serving dish. Stir to coat everything in sauce. Sprinkle the basil over the top and serve immediately.
Leftovers can be kept refrigerated for up to 1 week.
Substituting Other Tomatoes: The roasted tomatoes make this a fairly smoky-tasting dish. If you'd prefer a dish without this flavor, use regular diced tomatoes. You can also use pureed tomatoes and skip the step where the diced tomatoes are blended into a puree.
Related: Look! Cauliflower Pizza Crust
(Images: Emma Christensen)