This is a straightforward pasta — my favorite kind — with mostly basic pantry ingredients and a couple of things to wow it up. The breadcrumbs (poor man's parmesan!) might seem trivial, but don't skip them. They add a wonderful, crunchy texture that really makes the dish. So grab your can opener — this pasta is dead-simple and it will feed a crowd!
I served this twice for dinner for two people and had it once for lunch. That's six (really big) meals total, and there's still a serving or two in the fridge! It makes excellent leftovers (obviously), but save the extra breadcrumbs and add them fresh each time you serve it. Otherwise, they'll get soggy.
Recipe Tester's Notes
Make this. Make this now. No regrets. This is one of those magical pastas that feels simultaneously healthy and also like comfort food. I think it's the healthy dose of cauliflower, which just about equals the amount of pasta! The amount of sausage is also perfect — enough to add a bit of heft to the dish, but without making it feel heavy. Elizabeth's right: don't skip the breadcrumbs. I love the crunch and they make this weeknight meal feel fancy.
Elizabeth is right about another thing, too: this recipe feeds a crowd! When it's just my husband and myself, I sometimes halve the recipe. Either that, or I'll freeze half the sauce before adding the pasta. For a larger family or dinner with friends, this would be the perfect amount.
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 large shallot or small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage
1 head cauliflower, cut into small, bite-sized florets
1 teaspoon salt
2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
1 pound pasta, any shape
1/2 to 3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs or panko
1/2 pound mozzarella, cut or shredded into small pieces
Start a large pot of water to boiling over high heat for the pasta. It will take several minutes to come to a boil.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large, high-sided skillet over medium heat (use a 14-inch skillet if you have one). Add the shallot or onion, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until soft and translucent, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the sausage, breaking it up as it cooks.
When the sausage is almost cooked through, add the cauliflower, salt and pepper. Push the cauliflower down into the pan so the florets have as much surface contact with the pan as possible. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower begins to brown slightly. If the pan is very dry, depending on how much fat is in your sausage, you can add another splash of oil.
Turn the heat up to medium-high and pour in the tomatoes. Scrape any brown bits off of the bottom of the pan. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then cover, lower the heat to medium-low, and simmer until the cauliflower is cooked through, about 10 minutes.
While the sauce is simmering, boil the pasta. When the pasta is al dente, drain it and set aside. Also, spread the breadcrumbs onto a cookie sheet and run under the broiler to lightly toast; alternatively, brown the breadcrumbs in a dry skillet.
If your pan is big enough, transfer the pasta to the pan with the sauce once the cauliflower is tender. Otherwise, combine everything in a large serving bowl. Toss together, then add the cubes of mozzarella.
Top each serving with bread crumbs, reserving extra breadcrumbs for leftovers.
Make-Ahead and Freeze: This sauce freezes very well on its own. Cool completely then freeze in portions. Thaw overnight in the fridge and reheat on the stovetop over medium heat.
This recipe has been updated. Originally published March 2011.