“You don’t send me flowers”…


Well, “cauliflowers,” that is~

I spent this past weekend in Minneapolis visiting some dear friends—one of which was celebrating a birthday by having a little get-together at her house.

Recently I have been on a cauliflower kick and when I was asked to make a pasta dish for the party, I thought of roasted cauliflower with penne pasta. This is a dish very similar to one that Nonna made—she sautéed her cauliflower—but I like the idea of roasting this underused vegetable. Italians like to serve their vegetables with a bit of spicy heat, especially bitter greens, and, though it isn’t green, using red pepper flakes is a great way to add a little “som’in, som’in” to the often bland flavor of cauliflower.

I made this dish several weeks ago using spinach penne and it turned out wonderful. I am a little dubious of my success this past weekend. I think I could have used a little more salt once I added the pasta to the “sauce.” Everyone said they enjoyed it, but I wonder if they’ll invite me to cook again. You win some and, sometimes, well, not so much. The important thing is that we celebrated our time together and what could be better than that?

Here is the recipe for the successful version I made several weeks ago. I hope you are successful, too.

Roasted Cauliflower with Penne Pasta

To roast the cauliflower:

2 heads of cauliflower

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, maybe a little more

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, more or less to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Remove the core of each cauliflower, cut the florets into bite-sized pieces and place into a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, adding the salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Using your hands great toss the florets until they are covered with the oil and seasonings. Spread onto a large baking sheet making sure the florets are not crowded, otherwise they will steam more than they will roast. (For better roasting, I like to place the cut side of the florets down to make direct contact with the sheet.)

Roast for 10 minutes and check to see if the cut sides of the florets are browning. If not,  continue to roast (about an additional 5 mintues) until the sides in contact with the sheet are nicely browned. Remove the sheet from the oven, and using tongs, turn the florets over to roast an additional side. Place the sheet back into the oven and continue roasting for another 10-15minutes until side two is nicely browned, and the florets are fork tender. Remove the sheet again and let the florets cool on the sheet while you prepare the “sauce.”

For the “sauce”:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, finely minced

1 cup low-sodium boxed chicken, or vegetable, broth, divided

½ teaspoon Kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a large sauce pan over medium-high heat, add the oil to the hot pan and stir in the onions, coating well with the oil. Stir for one minute, making sure that the onions do not brown, and add ¼ cup of the broth. Stir occasionally, until the broth is almost evaporated, 3 to 5 minutes. Add another ¼ cup of the broth and continue stirring until the liquid has almost evaporated a second time. Repeat this step with the next ¼ cup of broth. When the third batch of broth is almost evaporated, stir in the salt, pepper, and remaining ¼ cup of broth. Still until well combined, remove from the heat, and set aside. This is the “sauce.”

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of boiling water to boil. Once boiling, add 2 tablespoons of salt and 1 pound of penne pasta. Cook the pasta as directed on the box.

While the pasta cooks, grate ¾ cup fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus an additional ¼ cup for garnish, and chop ¼ cup fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley. Set both aside for assembly.

Two or three minutes before the pasta is done, place the pan with the onion mixture back over low heat until it starts to simmer. When the pasta is al dente—tender but still has a bite, drain and add it to the simmering onions. Stir until well combined. Taste and adjust the salt and black pepper here (this is where I fell short in Minneapolis). Stir the roasted cauliflower and all of the dripping from the sheet into the sauced pasta. Again, taste for seasoning, and adjust as necessary.

Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the cheese, parsley, and drizzle with another tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.  Plate and serve warm, garnishing with additional cheese.

**If you really want to turn up the heat, you can serve this with pepper sauce (peppers in white vinegar) on the side. Let people add dashes of the pepper sauce to their personal level of endurance.

Serves 8.

Hope this turns out well.

Buon appetito!


About the Author

Mark LeslieMark Leslie, seen cooking on NBC’s "The Today Show" and Hallmark Channel's "Home & Family," loves to cook for anyone with an appetite, vacations in Italy every year, and lives to eat his way through every plate of pasta and cone of gelato placed before him. His first book, “Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family,” tells of his life in Italy while cooking with an Italian grandmother. He shares his food experiences on his blog at www.beyondthepasta.com and has taught cooking classes in California, Georgia, Minnesota, Texas, and across Alabama. While judging for high school culinary events, he was chosen by the US Department of Education to judge for their "National Education Startup Challenge." Mark can be regularly seen cooking on NBC-affiliate, WSFA-TV 12's "Alabama Live! each Friday, bringing easy, locally sourced recipes to central Alabama. His iTunes app “Beyond the Pasta” features helpful videos and more of Nonna’s family-style recipes that she shared with him, plus, upon its release, it was named “New & Noteworthy” by Apple. DaVinci Wines chose Mark as their "2012 Storyteller" in Language Arts—where they sent him to Vinci, Italy, to write about wine, food and life. Mark, his home and book have been featured in such national publications and blogs as House Beautiful, Paula Deen, Food Republic, The Kitchn, Apartment Therapy, Field & Stream, and The Daily Meal. A Chicago-area native and “Yankee” by birth, Mark has lived in Alabama for over 24 years, and celebrates the fact that he started life eating farina, progressed to grits, and finally arrived at polenta. Buonissimo!View all posts by Mark Leslie →

  1. David BralyDavid Braly06-23-2010

    Caio, Marco! This recipe reads fantastico, and I am going to make it this Friday night. Thanks for sharing it and giving all us fans a summertime treat.

  2. Mark LeslieMark Leslie06-23-2010

    Ciao, Davide! Thanks, let’s hope it cooks as good as it reads…and tastes even better. Let me know how it goes. Wish I could be there to eat it with you. Buon Appetitto!

  3. David BralyDavid Braly06-27-2010

    This dish is absloutely fantastic. I did make it Friday, with some modifications–like spaghetti instead of pene, but can now ‘testify’ that the roasted cauliflower is a triumph on its own, and the sauce very new and different. I used some frozen turkey broth, which was on hand, and is probably a little richer. What’s Italian for ‘kudos’?

"Beyond the Pasta" is owned and operated by Mark Leslie. Unless otherwise specified all content, writing, recipes and photography is original and held in copyright through the Library of Congress. It may not be used without the express written consent of Mark Leslie.