Monday, September 13, 2010

Cooking to Save the Planet: Pasta with Cauliflower and Walnuts

It's cauliflower and broccoli season, as summer turns to fall.  And as good firm heads of fresh cauliflower begin to flood our local markets, we often cook a version of this cauliflower pasta dish for supper.  Simple, rich with good vegetables, olive oil, parmesan cheese, and walnuts--and therefore healthy.  And delicious.

Here's how we make it: take a medium head of cauliflower and steam it.  We steam the head whole and then break the florets up to mix with the pasta after they're tender.  As you steam the cauliflower, put on a pot of water for pasta, and cook whatever pasta you want to eat with the cauliflower--shapes like penne and orecchiette work well with this dish.

As the cauliflower steams, pour a good bit of olive oil--several tablespoons, at a minimum--into a large skillet, and sautée a bell pepper sliced into thin strips (we often use a red bell pepper, since the sweetness complements the cauliflower, and the color makes the dish less pallid).  Add a medium onion cut into strips, and, at the end, just as the vegetables are beginning to soften, add a finely minced toe or two of garlic.

When the onion and pepper strips are just tender, add about a cup of sliced mushrooms (portobello is good), the head of cauliflower broken into florets, and three quarters of a cup of walnut pieces.  I sometimes add some frozen English peas if we have them on hand.  Stir and toss these into the pepper and onion mix, adding salt, pepper, and oregano to taste.

Mix the vegetables with your drained pasta just after it comes out of the pot, and toss in some freshly grated parmesan.  If you want a bit more sauce, simply pour in a dollop more of olive oil.  Serve immediately with fresh parsley sprinkled on top.

This is a wonderful dish with a salad made with one of the slightly bitter lettuces like endive or escarole, in a vinaigrette seasoned with garlic and perhaps a pinch of dry mustard.  Served with a few oil-cured olives with their dark, complex, chocolatey taste.  We serve the pasta in soup bowls and eat it with soup spoons, since the vegetables and smaller pasta shapes are easier (for us, at least) to eat that way than with a fork.

(Don't discard the leaves of the cauliflower and its core.  They make a wonderful addition to soups, or, if you cook several cauliflowers at once, can become the base of a cream of cauliflower soup.  Or slice the core thinly and add to the salad.)

The graphic is Estonian artist Alfred Hirv's "Still Life with Cauliflower" (1916).

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