Keeping it Simple with Pasta and Cauliflower Recipe

Pasta with cauliflower

Pasta with cauliflower

Way back when I started this blog, I posted recipes every week in a series called What’s Cooking Wednesday.

I started out wanting to record the recipes I make all the time, many of which come from my family — my grandmother’s meatballs and Italian wedding soup, my mom’s chocolate cake and apple pie, and even our neighbor Louise’s banana cake. I expanded into including some of P’s mom’s recipes, true Calabrian treasures, like her chicory and cannellini beans and spicy sausage with fava beans.

But a true food blogger I was never going to be since I’m not really into trying all kinds of recipes with this sauce or that special ingredient (which is likely impossible for me to find in rural southern Italy anyway). Probably 90% of the recipes on this site are ones I make with exceptional regularity when the ingredients are in-season. Yes, some desserts can get a bit complicated in preparation and have longer ingredient lists, but most of my go-to, everyday recipes stick to the concepts of simple and fresh.

Along with many other aspects of my life over the past eight and a half years, cooking has become an exercise in simplicity.

Through adapting to seasonal eating and learning the ins and outs of all the locally available ingredients, I have also developed a feel for what goes together as well as what both P and I will like. While we tend to stick to the basics, I’m never bored with our meals since there is such a wide array of fresh produce around no matter the season — plus I’ve noticed that just about the time I start craving artichokes, they seem to magically come into season. Or I’ve planned ahead and frozen plenty anyway.

I still get in some experimenting, albeit within stricter confines that I would have had in the United States, and that is what happened this past fall with cauliflower.

Before moving here, I had only ever eaten cauliflower smothered in cheese sauce. I liked it, of course; smother anything in cheese sauce and chances are good that I’ll like it. But I knew that dish wasn’t going to fly here, and quite honestly I didn’t really want to eat it anyway. I’ve made cavolfiori al forno, which is delicious, but I was hoping for a main dish, i.e., with pasta.

So I thought about cauliflower in terms of its kissing cousin, broccoli, and treated it in a similar manner. P had never had cauliflower with pasta (his mom doesn’t like vegetables with pasta, so she doesn’t make them that way), but he was willing to give it a go. This dish has been a staple in our house all winter, and I hope you’ll enjoy it too.

Pasta with cauliflower is so fast and easy to make, and you can still taste every single ingredient in the final product. Simple, fresh, delicious. Perfect.

Pasta with Cauliflower
Pasta con cavolfiori

Pasta con cavolfiori

Pasta con cavolfiori

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 small cloves garlic, each cut in half
  • Peperoncino to taste
  • Salted water
  • Head of cauliflower
  • Penne or other short pasta
  • Bread crumbs & parmigiano (optional)

1. Clean cauliflower and cut into individual florets. A head of cauliflower can be quite big, so portion it out for as many people as will be eating. You can parboil all of it and save some for later or even freeze the rest once it’s cooled. Alternately, simply clean a part of it and save the rest for another day (making sure to keep as much of the bottom part of the head on as possible). Parboil florets in boiling salted water until al dente.

2. Remove cauliflower from water with slotted spoon and set aside. Taste the water at this point to make sure it’s salty enough for the pasta — you want it to taste roughly like sea/ocean water. Bring it back to a boil and add pasta.

3. In the meantime, heat olive oil in pan and saute garlic and peperoncino over medium heat, but don’t let either brown. Note if you’re making a lot of cauliflower, you should adjust measurements for olive oil and garlic.

4. Add cauliflower to pan and toss well. Add a large ladle-full of the pasta water as well and let cauliflower soak in the flavors for several minutes. If the mixture is getting dry, add some more pasta water. Taste cauliflower and if pasta isn’t done yet, turn off heat and cover when cauliflower is to your desired taste.

5. As an optional step, at this point you can toast some bread crumbs in a pan. As you can see from the photos, I used seasoned bread crumbs, which came with parsley and garlic salt in them.

6. When the pasta is ready, make sure the pan with the cauliflower is on low heat and then add pasta and toss well.

7. If you are adding toasted breadcrumbs, do so just before serving. Serve also with the option of shaved parmigiano.

Buon appetito!

What’s your favorite cauliflower dish?

36 Beans of Wisdom to “Keeping it Simple with Pasta and Cauliflower Recipe”
  1. Elisa

    We simply love cauliflower and pasta.

    michelle Reply:

    Thx for sharing, Elisa!

  2. I just made this two nights ago!! Growing up, we always had it with broccoli (here’s the recipe: but I love to make it with cauliflower. I don’t use breadcrumbs, but I will often use crushed red pepper because Ed likes a little spice – and lately, I’ve been making it with rigatoni. It’s just such a great dish. BTW – your photo of it is beautiful!

    michelle Reply:

    Thx Salena! We have the peperoncino in the pan with the olive oil, but sometimes P will add some extra at the table πŸ™‚

  3. Cristina

    we have this dish often, only i cook the pasta and cauliflower together. it’s simple and yummy!

    michelle Reply:

    You’re braver than I am, Cristina — I’m always worried about the timing πŸ™‚

  4. Gil

    Anne makes it a few times a year. I think she doctored up my mother’s and/or grandmother’s recipe. My Godfather, my father’s youngest brother, loved it too. On one of his trips from ‘da’ Bronx’ to Sarno (his father’s village) where nobody spoke English he used his limited Italian and asked the old aunt to make “pasta con cavallo”! Long time family joke!!!

    michelle Reply:

    Haha if you’re in the “right” part of Italy, you can probably find that too, Gil πŸ˜‰

  5. 02.13.2012

    This looks just wonderful, Michelle, and I bet using the purple variety would be pretty, too. We use breadcrumbs on pasta down here in Sicily, too–the poor man’s parmeggiano!

    michelle Reply:

    Hee hee, indeed Jann!

  6. 02.16.2012

    Sounds terrific, Michelle!
    Hope all is well for you, your husband and goat!!


    michelle Reply:

    Thx Constance; hope all is well with you and yours too πŸ™‚

  7. I think I’m going to try this recipe too! I saw my cousin do something like this with the big leaves at the end of the cauliflower, she boiled them in the pasta water. It was the first time that I realized duh, these things are edible!

    Speaking of big leaves, do people in your village eat cardoon leaves? When I was a girl, my grandfather used to walk the power line (in New Jersey) and collect these. Now I have some in my yard. It’s bitter but very good breaded and sauteed.

    michelle Reply:

    I’ve never even seen cardoons here, though that doesn’t mean much hahaha….

  8. 02.21.2012

    I am so delighted to have stumbled upon your blog!! This is a recipe I am definitely going to try out. I just need to get my hands on some good parmigiano. Never thought of combining pasta and cauliflower! Will be visiting often xoxo

    michelle Reply:

    Hope you enjoy it, Meenakshi! Thanks for coming by πŸ™‚

  9. charlie

    Just made this for my family tonight. Thefe is none left. Thats always a good sign!

    michelle Reply:

    So happy they enjoyed it, Charlie! Thanks for coming by πŸ™‚

  10. Samantha

    We roast cauliflour along with other veggies (broccoli, asparagus, mushrooms, zucchini… whatever sounds good) in the oven. I marinate them in a sub sauce (oil, vinegar and spices) and add a little extra olive oil, thyme, garlic, S&P. We usually have this with mashed sweet potatoes and garlic bread. Yum!! (We actially had this for dinner last night πŸ˜‰

    michelle Reply:


  11. Karen (Back Road Journal)

    This is one of my favorite pasta dishes. As a matter of fact, that is what I am making for tonight dinner. I do one thing different…I roast my cauliflower until it caramelizes.

    michelle Reply:

    Sounds great Karen πŸ™‚

  12. 02.28.2012

    This just might make my hubby try cauliflower

    michelle Reply:

    I sure hope so — he’s missing out on a great veggie as you well know haha πŸ™‚

  13. I have a hard time getting my family to eat cauliflower. I bet they’d like it in this though.

    michelle Reply:

    Fingers crossed!

  14. 02.29.2012

    Haven’t cooked with cauliflower for years – since fussy kids came along. Sounds like a recipe I might have some success with however. Grazie!

    michelle Reply:

    Hope everyone enjoys it!

  15. 02.29.2012

    After my long absence from the Blogworld I am so happy to see you are still blogging!!

    michelle Reply:

    Hey there, hope you are doing well! It’s been forever!

  16. 03.04.2012

    wow, sounds great. I love cauliflour, but never had it with pasta. will def give this a go!! thanks

    michelle Reply:

    Hope you enjoy it, Petra!

  17. 03.06.2012

    Yum! Thanks! My brother in law grows it and I was looking for something new to do with the cauliflower! Grazie! πŸ™‚

    michelle Reply:

    Hope you enjoy Lucinda!

  18. 04.02.2012

    Looks good! I’ve been making something a little like this lately, pasta with broccoli on top, seasoned bread crumbs tossed onto the pasta at the end. Crushed Rice Chex (plus seasonings) make good gluten-free crumbs.

    michelle Reply:

    Thx for the tip!



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