I was thirteen years old when I realized that the whole world doesn’t eat pasta every Sunday. I was invited to Gretchen’s house (German ancestry) and her mother served roast beef, mashed potatoes and green beans. Whaaaaat?
My family had pasta most Fridays (meatless), and every single Sunday, with lots of meat. As did all my relations. The Sunday pot always had meatballs, usually chunks of chuck roast, chicken parts and when Dad could get them, pigs’ feet. All of this would be prepared on Saturday late afternoon and cooked gently till we went to bed, when it would be turned off and left on the stove.
In the morning, the pot would be put on low heat and we’d troop off to Mass. Often we’d stop by my Uncle Tony and Aunt Joann’s house, where the same ritual was happening. Whether at their house or ours, we’d all “rob the pot” after Mass and have some of the meat. Then, the pasta would be served, followed by salad. There was never dessert unless it was someone’s birthday. All this took place every single Sunday.
What follows is what was sometimes prepared on a Friday. My father, who did most of the cooking, called this month’s recipe “depression food” because it was cheap and filling. I suppose that cauliflower was not quite the “in” vegetable that it is now. I’ve seen recipes now for cauliflower pizza crust, as well as riced cauliflower as a low-carb alternative in Asian stir-fry. But for us, cauliflower was something you paired with pasta. I had never had it any other way.
This cauliflower pasta is something that my father would never to serve to company—just too plebeian. But I went ahead and did so once, to my guest’s great delight. Then I learned another lesson: most people wouldn’t think to add cauliflower to pasta.
So like last month, I offer another quick, and tasty pasta. This column is Seasonal Flavors after all, and my garden is dormant except for a few straggly leeks, some onions and teeny tiny spinach, waiting for Spring. But there is cauliflower in the grocery stores, so let’s go.
- 1 head cauliflower
- 4 cloves garlic
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Grated Romano cheese
- ¾ lb pasta
I always use a pressure cooker for this. Not only is it fast, but it efficiently cooks the cauliflower to mush—which is the goal. If you don’t have one, or fear your pressure cooker, then just cut the cauliflower into four large pieces, cover with salted water and cook till it is very, very soft.
If you use the pressure cooker, put the four pieces into the cooker, add two inches of water, bring to pressure and cook for 15 minutes. Save the cooking water.
In a large frying pan, gently heat the oil, crush the garlic cloves and cook till they start to brown, then remove from heat while you await your cauliflower. Take the cooked cauliflower and add to the pan of garlic oil, then use a potato masher and mash it into the oil. My Dad would always add some of the cauliflower cooking water at this point, to make it runnier. I prefer not to do that. You choose.
In the meantime, cook the pasta—any shape will do, but I prefer thin spaghetti. Cook until al dente, strain, and add it to the pan of cauliflower “sauce.” Mix thoroughly and serve immediately with lots of freshly ground pepper and the Romano cheese. I’d serve this to a guest, wouldn’t you?