Recipe: Pan-Roasted Cauliflower Pasta with Smoky Tomato Sauce

updated Jan 29, 2020
Pan-Roasted Cauliflower Pasta with Smoky Tomato Sauce
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

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.

Here, pan-roasted cauliflower and ribbons of prosciutto get folded into a bright but savory tomato sauce with pasta. It’s a perfect union of all my conflicting opposites.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

I am a fiend for smoky flavors, and this dish is full of them. The cauliflower becomes caramelized and blackened in the pan — almost to 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 purée and skip the step of puréeing 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.

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.

Tester’s Notes

This tomatoey pasta dish has comfort food written all over it. After retesting the recipe, I made a few adjustments to not only make it a little more wholesome but also make it extra easy to whip on a busy weeknight. I nixed the heavy cream originally called for in the recipe, as it was cozy enough without it, and I lowered the amount of prosciutto, using it as a crispy, salty garnish rather than stirring it in, uncooked, into the pasta, which previous commenters noted got lost in the dish. I also gave the option of using a bag of frozen cauliflower instead of chopping up a head for the sake of making things extra convenient.

Sheela, December 2017

Pan-Roasted Cauliflower Pasta with Smoky Tomato Sauce

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info


  • 4

    thin slices prosciutto

  • 12 ounces

    dry short pasta, such as fusilli, rotini, or gemelli

  • 2 tablespoons

    olive oil

  • 1

    (16-ounce) bag frozen cauliflower florets, or 1 large head cauliflower (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut into small florets

  • Kosher salt

  • 2 cloves

    garlic, minced

  • Pinch red pepper flakes

  • 2

    (14.5-ounce) cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes

  • 2 tablespoons

    coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or basil leaves

  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)


  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, heat a 10- to 12-inch cast iron or wide, large, high-sided skillet over medium-high heat. Add the prosciutto in a single layer and cook until curling and lightly browned underneath, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook until browned on the other side, about 2 minutes more. Transfer the prosciutto to paper towels to drain. Set the pan aside (do not wash).

  2. When the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook until al dente according to package instructions. Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and set it aside.

  3. Meanwhile, add the oil to the skillet and place over medium heat until shimmering. Add the cauliflower and a big pinch of salt and stir to coat. Cook undisturbed until the bottoms start turning dark and golden-brown, about 1 minute. Continue cooking, stirring every minute or so, until the cauliflower has developed dark seared spots all over and is almost tender but not completely cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes total.

  4. Reduce the heat to medium, add the garlic and red pepper flakes, and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the diced tomatoes and their juices, along with another big pinch of salt, stir to combine with the cauliflower, and simmer for 3 minutes. Taste and season with more salt if needed.

  5. Add the pasta and toss to combine. If needed, add the reserved pasta water a tablespoon at a time to loosen the sauce so that the pasta is evenly coated. Transfer to serving bowls and crumble the crispy prosciutto over each portion. Sprinkle with the parsley or basil and grated cheese, if using.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Originally published April 2013.