I made this pasta the other night to go with the garlic bread and roasted tomato caprese. Although this is only the second time I have made it, I can honestly say it is a favorite of mine. It has so many delightful flavors and textures and it is very versatile. Parts of it can be made in advance, and the whole dish can be made a day ahead without suffering any ill effects.
This dish comes from a cookbook called From the Earth to the Table which was written by John Ash, one of the pioneers of California wine country cooking. This cookbook is not vegetarian, although over half of the recipes are meat-free, and it is one that I turn to over and over, especially when I am craving exceptionally fresh and flavorful food. Ash has a fabulous restaurant in Santa Rosa – just north of the Napa Valley – where I was lucky enough to have a lovely, if solitary, meal.
I’m sure we all have some time in our lives that we would like to, if not forget, then to go back and live differently. Mid-1998 to the end of 2000 was like that for me. I went through a messy divorce, began a relationship with a not-so-good guy, and worked at a job that I hated. In March of 2000, I quit my job and took a road trip to clear my head. First, I went to Arizona to visit the not-so-good guy, but after that the trip got much better. I spent a few days in L.A. with my dear friend Karen, I flew to Mexico on a free ticket, and once back in the States, I slowly meandered my way up the West Coast enjoying the incredible scenery on offer.
For the most part, I ate very cheaply, but I did splurge at John Ash. I dressed up, brought my book, and treated myself to a nice dinner. I don’t remember what I ate, although I do remember that I was blown away by how fresh and tasty everything was. I remember that I was reading The Grapes of Wrath – savoring every word on the page – and I remember that I wished I had a date across the table from me. I did not wish it was the not-so-good guy.
A week or so later, I arrived back in Seattle. It took me another month or two, but I did break it off with the not-so-good guy. A few months later, I met my husband who has been a wonderful dinner date every since.
A few words on the recipe. The first time I made it, I used fresh cranberry beans that I bought at the Farmer’s Market. Sadly, I don’t have any left in my freezer, so I just used good canned cannelini beans and they blended in beautifully. Ash suggests that the sun-dried tomatoes are optional, I think they are essential both for color and flavor. I made some changes that I won’t bore you with, just personal preferences. This pasta is really a beauty because it is great at room temperature as well as hot.
For the pesto, you will want to roast about 3 large cloves of garlic. To do so, place the unpeeled cloves on a small piece of foil, drizzle them with olive oil, fold them up in the foil packet and then put them in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes. A toaster oven is perfect for this if you have one. They should feel soft to the touch. Squeeze the garlic out of the skins and proceed with the recipe.
Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower and Parsley Pesto
Adapted from From the Earth to the Table
Serves 6 generously
You can make the pesto five days and roast the cauliflower one day before you finish the pasta. Slicing the cauliflower (as opposed to just breaking it into florets) give you more surface area for caramelization – a good thing.
1 medium cauliflower (2 pounds or so), sliced 1/2 thick vertically
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. tubular shaped pasta, such as penne or rigatoni
Parsley Pesto (recipe follows)
3/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 can cannelini beans, rinsed and drained
Thinly shaved or grated Parmesan cheese for garnishing
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Sprinkle both sides of the cauliflower lightly with olive oil, then liberally with pepper and salt. Arrange on a single layer on a baking sheet. Put in th eoven ad roast for 15 to 20 minutes or until the cauliflower is lightly browned and tender. Break into large irregular pieces and set aside.
In a large pot of lightly salted boiling cooking water, cook the pasta until just al dente. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Toss the hot pasta with the Parsley Pesto, cauliflower, olives, tomatoes, and beans, adding a bit of the reserved water if the mixture seems to dry. Top with cheese and serve warm or at room temperature. (Can be made one day ahead. Allow to cool completely and then store, covered, in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving or reheat until it is warm.)
Makes a generous cup
4 cups packed fresh parsley leaves and tender stems, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp. roasted garlic
2 tbsp. pine nuts
2 tbsp. Parmesan or Asiago cheese
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/3 cup olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Combine the parsley, garlic, pine nuts, cheese, lemon zest, and olive oil in a food processor or blender, and process until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.