Sunday, October 12, 2014

rigatoni and cauliflower al forno.

Last night, Tyler complained that I don't blog about his favorite things that I cook.  It should be known, that Tyler loves the hodge-podge meals that I put together with the random assortment of things we have leftover in the fridge at any given time.  These meals get cobbled together and they are generally speaking pretty awesome.  How they end up so awesome I do not know (the mysteries of cooking). It's not that I don't want to talk about these meals, it's just that on a nightly basis after working all day, going to the gym, and trying to have some semblance of a relaxing evening, I don't have the energy to religiously document how I made a dish.  Cooking is a lot of trial and error.  It's about tasting and then adding flavors and ingredients.  A lot of these evening meals are made that way and I think the freedom to not follow a recipe is what makes them so wonderful.

On occasion, following a recipe is good thing and that is how this dish came about (one that Tyler declared his new favorite).  Baked pastas are a glorious fall meal, but often times they are heavy, cheese and sauce laden behemoths that leave you requiring a nap.  This baked pasta is the furthest thing from that.  Sauteed cauliflower is tossed with olives, lemon juice, and red pepper flakes to provide a nice bright punch of flavor.  The seasoned cauliflower is tossed with pasta and cubes of fontina  to provide the perfect amount of cheesey-gooeyness.  The whole thing is topped with bread crumbs and baked until crispy, crunchy, and golden brown.  It's irresistible and the perfect dish for a brisk Sunday evening.

Rigatoni and Cauliflower al Forno
Recipe adapted from the NYTimes 

The thing I love about this dish is the fact that you can add so many other things to it (of course I had to alter it).  I mixed in 1/2 cup of chopped red peppers I had in the fridge and that was a superb add-in.  I think some sauteed mushrooms could be wonderful as well as some chopped sun-dried tomatoes.  Feel free to use this pasta as an opportunity to "clean out your fridge".

¾ pound rigatoni or other large pasta shape
1 medium cauliflower, about 1 1/2 pounds
 Extra-virgin olive oil
 Salt and pepper
1/4 cup green olives, roughly chopped 
3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste
3 tablespoons roughly chopped sage, plus a few sage leaves left whole
½ teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 - 1 cup additional add in's (optional, see note above)
6 ounces coarsely grated fontina 
2 ounces finely grated Romano cheese or other hard pecorino
½ cup coarse dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

Cook the rigatoni in well-salted water according to package directions, but drain while still quite al dente. (If directions call for 12 minutes cooking, cook for 10 instead.) Rinse pasta with cool water, then drain again and set aside.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Cut cauliflower in half from top to bottom. Cut out tough core and stem any extraneous leaves. Lay cauliflower flat side down and cut crosswise into rough 1/4-inch slices. Break into smaller pieces.

Put 3 tablespoons olive oil in a wide skillet over high heat. Add cauliflower slices, along with any crumbly pieces, in one layer. (Work in batches if necessary.) Let cauliflower brown and caramelize for about 2 minutes, then turn pieces over to brown the other side. Cook for another 2 minutes, or until the cauliflower is easily pierced with a fork. It’s fine if some pieces don’t brown evenly. Season generously with salt and pepper. Add capers, garlic, red pepper flakes, chopped sage, sage leaves and lemon zest and stir to coat.

Put cooked cauliflower mixture in a large mixing bowl. Add cooked rigatoni, additional add-in's if using, and fontina and toss. Transfer mixture to a lightly oiled baking dish. Top with Romano cheese, then with bread crumbs and drizzle with about 1 tablespoon olive oil. (Dish may be completed to this point up to several hours in advance and kept at room temperature, covered.)

Bake, uncovered, for 20 to 30 minutes, until top is crisp and golden. Sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley before serving.

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