For more than 30 years I hardly went near cauliflower except for maybe a few times I made soup with it. It was one of those vegetables that I grew up eating boiled, in rotation with other common vegetables of the era. Then I went through phases where I thought the darker a vegetable, the better for you and just bypassed cauliflower’s pale hue. Now cauliflower seems to be everywhere and we can’t get enough. And we know it is a nutritional powerhouse. Cauliflower roasted at high temperature to bring out its flavor and char its edges becomes a revelation. Yum!
When I came across Jessica Merchant’s recipe for cauliflower carbonara last week, I knew I’d be making it. It did not disappoint. It is basically a classic carbonara with tons of cauliflower. The cauliflower is roasted in bacon fat, an outrageous but divine pairing! We added balsamic and hot pepper flakes to the original recipe, doubled the cauliflower, and reduced the amount of bacon. This was a perfect winter comfort dish, worthy of company. Roasting the cauliflower and frying the bacon ahead of time would help ease some of the last minute assembly the dish requires. Mama Mia this is good!
CHARRED CAULIFLOWER CARBONARA
12 slices of nitrate-free bacon, chopped
2 large heads of cauliflower, chopped in flowerlets, spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet
1/2 t cracked black pepper
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb box of bucatini pasta, cooked as directed in salted water
6 large eggs
3 c of freshly grated pecorino or parmesan cheese, plus extra for topping
1/2 c chopped flat leaf parsley
2 T balsamic vinegar
hot pepper flakes
Preheat oven to 425 F.
1- In a large deep skillet cook the bacon until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve. Turn off the heat. Take 4-6 tablesppons of the bacon fat and drizzle it over the cauliflower. Sprinkle with black pepper. Roast the cauliflower on the bottom rack for 20 minutes at 425F, tossing once. Drizzle with the balsamic.
2- Start boiling the pasta. Whisk together the eggs and parmesan. When the pasta is almost done cooking, sauté the garlic in the reserved bacon fat, over low heat, for a minute. Drain pasta, add to the pan and coat with the garlic and remaining bacon fat.
3- Remove the skillet from the heat and toss the pasta with the egg mixture to coat well, mixing constantly for 3-4 minutes. Toss in the cauliflower, bacon and a pinch of hot pepper flakes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Top with parsley and extra cheese and serve immediately!