Thanks to the return of the groundhog, my broccoli and cauliflower plants have been decimated. So, I am back to buying them from local farmers. It is so sad to see my plants with their top sections bitten off. The groundhog, however, does not seem to like swiss chard or curly kale. So those are still available for use.
A couple of years ago, I discovered pan searing cauliflower and all the wonderful things that does to the taste and texture of cauliflower. It is delicious alone and pairs beautifully with pasta.
Here it is paired with rigatoni, flavored with garlic, sage and lemon zest and then baked with cheese. The result is…
Both rich in flavors and comforting.
I used a good bit of crushed red pepper flakes, which added a great kick, but our 6 year old proclaimed it too spicy. So, if you are cooking for anyone who does not like spice, dial back the pepper.
Cauliflower Pasta al Forno
Very slightly adapted from David Tanis’ Rigatoni and Cauliflower al Forno
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced (form the garden)
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste
3 tablespoons roughly chopped sage (from the garden)
½ teaspoon lemon zest
6 ounces coarsely grated or mozzarella
2 ounces finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
½ cup panko bread crumbs
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Cut cauliflower in half from top to bottom. Cut out tough core and stem any extraneous leaves. Lay cauliflower flat side down and cut crosswise into rough 1/4-inch slices. Break into smaller pieces.
Put 3 tablespoons olive oil in a wide skillet over high heat. Add cauliflower slices, along with any crumbly pieces, in one layer. (Work in batches if necessary.) Let cauliflower brown and caramelize for about 2 minutes, then turn pieces over to brown the other side. Cook for another 2 minutes, or until the cauliflower is easily pierced with a fork. Add the garlic to the last batch of cauliflower after it is flipped.
Place in a large mixing bowl. Season generously with salt and pepper. Add red pepper flakes, chopped sage, and lemon zest and stir to coat.
Add cooked rigatoni and cheese and toss.
Transfer mixture to a lightly oiled baking dish. Top with parmigiano reggiano, then with bread crumbs and drizzle with about 1 tablespoon olive oil. (Dish may be completed to this point up to several hours in advance and kept at room temperature, covered.)
Bake, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, until top is crisp and golden.
Serve and enjoy!