Spicy Penne with Cauliflower

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Spicy Penne with Cauliflower

By Kendra Adachi

When my husband and I bought our first house and stood in an empty living room with barely noticeable “chocolate froth” paint on the walls, we wondered if we’d made the wrong call. Bor-ing. But then we added a big red couch, some deep chocolate shelving, and lots of green plants. That brownish beige wall became the perfect backdrop for lots of different colors and textures, creating a warm space that we call home.

You might think I’m crazy, but cauliflower is the beige wall of the vegetable world. What’s your general impression of cauliflower? White. Bland. Boring. On its own, that’s true, and for most of my life, I thought the story stopped there. A couple of years ago while on vacation, my love affair with cauliflower began. My husband and I ate dinner at a little restaurant where we reluctantly but curiously ordered a cauliflower dish on the recommendation of our waitress. She definitely got a really big tip that night. We were shocked that the most delicious part of our sublime meal was cauliflower! It was pan roasted with lots of sweet butter and spicy Dijon mustard, elevating the once bland vegetable to new heights that still make my mouth water. That night, cauliflower was my favorite vegetable. Shocking, right? But considering the sweetness from the butter, the richness from the method of roasting, and the spicy mustard, it’s no wonder bland was nowhere to be found.

This recipe is a great lesson in not only cooking from your well stocked pantry but also in seeing how to balance flavors to create something delicious. If that isn’t enough, it’s ready in less than twenty minutes and easy to prepare even for a kitchen novice.

Before we look at the actual recipe, let’s break down the flavors and see how it all works together. Our base is a nutty, hearty whole wheat pasta paired with cauliflower. Stopping there, we have a pretty boring dish. How do we turn it into a party? The onion adds a hint of sweetness. Garlic and red pepper flake add a nice spice on the back of your tongue. The cheese and bread crumbs add a salty and savory element. Salt makes everything taste like a better version of itself. The lemon zest and parsley make the heavier flavors taste fresh and light. And the butter… well, come on. Now go cook this, and taste how it all fits together. I’m excited that you’re giving cauliflower a chance.

Ingredients from your kitchen:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
half of one small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces of whole wheat penne pasta
½ cup Italian bread crumbs
2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flake
the zest (outer skin) of one lemon

Ingredients to purchase:
one head of cauliflower, chopped into small pieces
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped


Bring 4-6 quarts of water to a boil. Salt well, and cook the pasta for 8-10 minutes until al dente. Drain.
*If you start prepping your vegetables while the water boils and begin cooking them when you cook the pasta, everything will be done at the same time.

In a large skillet, sauté cauliflower and onion in butter over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt, black pepper, and red pepper flake. Add garlic. Cook an additional 2 minutes.

Remove from heat, and gently toss vegetables with cooked pasta, parsley, bread crumbs, Parmesan, lemon zest, and additional salt and black pepper to taste.

Kendra Adachi simply loves food and anything related to it. She and her husband live in North Carolina with their brand new baby boy, taking every opportunity to feed friends and family. Kendra is a cooking instructor, food consultant, and food blogger at myfirstkitchen.net.

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