Cauliflower Pasta “Risotto”

The cauliflower at the Portland Farmers Market this winter has been so sweet and beautiful.

My father always told me not to over promise or over sell or just not be so darn hyperbolic, but I just can’t help myself. My son and husband and I all ate two plates of this last night with such glee that I must write about it today and post poorly lit photos because that’s all I have and I don’t have time to remake the dish in day-light. And there are NO leftovers.

The technique/recipe is inspired by a dish called Dressy Pasta Risotto from Dorie Greenspan’s wonderful book Around My French Table. My addition of a head of cauliflower and liberal grating of fresh nutmeg and the omission of much of the butter and all of the mascarpone has got me thinking about all sorts of other versions. I’m going to try Brussels sprouts and bacon maybe or kale and garlic or winter squash and sage. . .  The possibilities are vast and exciting.

I used tubetti pasta, a favorite shape I use in this chickpea dish and generally have on hand to add to soup–a surefire way to get my son to eat anything even if they’re just a few of them on the plate.

Serve this dish with a salad of arugula and/or chicories or other winter salad green to add some color and contrasting flavors to the plate. My idea of a perfect winter meal.

The ingredients for this dish are shockingly pale compared to my usual rainbow of colors but don't let that put you off.

Cauliflower Pasta “Risotto”
–adapted from Around my French Table by Dorie Greenspan

Serves 3-4

As Dorie notes, “this is risotto” the way that finely sliced apples are carpaccio, which means not at all. . .” but the technique is just enough reminiscent of risotto that I appreciate the reference and continue to use it.

1 small head cauliflower, washed, trimmed and cut into very small pieces (see photo)
1 medium onion, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil or 1 tbs butter and 1 tbs olive oil
1 1/3 cup tubetti (or ditalini or other small pasta)
4 cups flavorful vegetable broth (homemade veggie bouillon) or chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or other hard, grating cheese (Asiago Stella is a good, cheaper alternative)
Salt
Lots of freshly ground black pepper
Generous grating (about 1/4 teaspoon) fresh nutmeg

The fastest way to prepare the cauliflower is to slice the head into 1/2- 3/4-inch slabs, top to bottom, and then proceed to cube those. Some pieces will crumble off but that’s just fine. Use as much of the heart/stem as you can if it doesn’t seem to0 tough.

Heat the olive oil, or oil and butter, in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and a few pinches of salt and cook for  7 to 8 minutes until soft and turning golden, stirring often. You  may need to reduce the heat a bit. Now add the broth or stock and bring to a boil. Add the pasta, stirring well and then simmer for about 10 minutes uncovered. Now add the cauliflower, stir well to incorporate and then cover and cook for another 7 or 8 minutes until the cauliflower is tender. At this point add the cream and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Cook uncovered for about 3 minutes until it thickens slightly.

Stir in the parmesan and the nutmeg and adjust salt and pepper to taste. The cauliflower should be soft but not falling apart. It should not be al dente for this dish. Serve immediately.

Cauliflower Pasta "Risotto"

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