Of late, Roxanne has been my date to quite a few tastings. Last week I was at The Sassy Spoon with her to try out the special menu created by the lovely Rachel Allen. This menu was created for a special charity event which happens tomorrow. Since it is a private event, the menu was available for regular diners for a limited period only. Fresh salads, appetizers and mains made the afternoon an absolute delight. I sipped on my Very Berry Khatta while tasting it all.
Roxy and I both love pasta. However, she prefers one without a sauce – almost like an Aglio Olio – whereas I like mine with some sauce. When we tried the cauliflower pasta from the menu, Roxy was floored. The snob in me said, “I like mine with more sauce.” Little did I know my attitude towards sauce-less pasta would change within a day.
I rummaged in the kitchen to find something to work with. We were hungry and none of us wanted to step out to eat. We didn’t have enough cash on us so we couldn’t order in. Instead of arguing about who would go withdraw money from the ATM downstairs, I went to kitchen in hopes of finding a good ingredient to use. The only things I could find were dried pasta, black olives, a tiny piece of parmesan, basil, and… CAULIFLOWER. Normally, I would take tomatoes and make a sauce for the pasta, but there were none. So, I decided to make something similar to the one I ate at The Sassy Spoon with a little extra parmesan. To my surprise, Akhil (who dislikes cauliflower) loved it too. It’s a win situation when that happens.
Instead of making a sauce, I focused more on cooking each element correctly and finally putting it together on a plate. It’s amazing how something you hate can be made divine just by cooking it differently. The trick was to chop up the cauliflower into bits and gently pan roast them with a little olive oil. No seasoning was added to this. It turns a wee bit crunchy, and gets an earthy flavour.
I can’t stress enough on the amount of time it takes to perfectly cook pasta. I love my pasta al dente and it takes 8 to 9 minutes to get to that stage. This applies to all store-bought dried pasta. Fresh pasta, for obvious reasons, requires less time. But the lazy person that I am, I go for the dried variety. Second thing important in cooking pasta is adding enough salt to the water. It could be an old Italian Nan’s tale, but adding salt makes the water boil quicker and adds a teeny bit of flavour to the pasta. Please don’t add any oil. It does nothing to the pasta and will just make washing dishes a pain.
Coming back to my recipe, it’s very easy to follow and you can add your own element to it if you like. Add chorizo, bacon, leftover chicken, mushrooms, spinach, kale, whatever you like. Make it your own and yes, tell me if that works wonderfully. I’ll try it next time.
Charred Cauliflower Pasta
Serving – 2
Cooking time – 15 minutes
2 cups of chopped cauliflower
1 large onion finely chopped
6 cloves of garlic slivered
1 ½ tsp Capsico sauce (can be replaced with one whole finely chopped de-seeded red chilli)
1 tsp balsamic vinegar (optional)
Salt and pepper
4 handful of Penne pasta (2 for each person is the standard measurement)
Sliced black olives
Good quality grated parmesan
Good quality extra virgin olive oil
In a pot, heat up some water and add salt. While that is set to boil, take a frying pan and add some olive oil. Add cauliflower and keep tossing every now and then till it turns beautifully golden brown. There will be some bits that turn black; don’t worry, just keep cooking it on medium heat till every bit is cooked through. Once ready, take it off the heat and keep it in a bowl.
Once the water starts boiling, add the pasta and stir it around a bit. Set the timer to 8 minutes and forget about it. Trust me, it works.
In the same pan as the one used to cook the cauliflower, drizzle in some more olive oil and add the onions. Add a bit of salt so that they don’t crisp up. This is another trick I learnt. When the onions turn translucent, add the garlic and keep cooking for a few more minutes.
Now you can add the cauliflower back to the pan and just toss it all up. Add the capsico, balsamic vinegar, pepper and tiny bit of salt. Toss it together and give it a final tasting. Please note that salt was added to pasta water and to the onions when you started cooking it. Adjust the seasoning depending on how much you’ve added before.
By now the pasta will be ready so drain out the water and save a couple of tablespoon of water in case your pasta looks too dry. Put the cooked pasta and a little bit of the water to the pan and toss everything together one last time. You’re nearly there.
Take a plate and serve the pasta. Garnish with olives, torn basil leaves and oodles of parmesan. Give it one last drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Layering each of the individually prepared elements and finally adding the parmesan was intensely satisfying and this kind of satisfaction should be shared.