Pasta with Cauliflower

One of the best moments in blogging is finding a great recipe on a friend’s website that you just have to make because it sounds and looks so good. Of course, trusting that colleague’s taste is also a determining factor for choosing it.

Today’s post was inspired by a recipe from my friend John Fodera on his website Tuscan Vines. John is one of the most passionate Italian-wine lovers that I know and his passion is backed by a great palate and broad knowledge of the subject. His reviews are always spot on and his interviews with wine makers insightful.

But in addition to wine reporting, John will also, on occasion, display his culinary skills and provide recipes that capture the essence of Italian cooking: using simple ingredients with minimal interference. Today’s recipe, his Pasta con Cavolfiore, is a perfect example.

Two primary ingredients, cauliflower and pancetta, are brought together with bread crumbs, olive oil, herbs, and basic seasonings to create a delicious pasta sauce that comes together in minutes. The sauce has rich nutty and savory flavors from the toasted bread crumbs and rendered pancetta. In addition, the blend of bread crumbs and cauliflower provide a counterpoint of crunchy and creamy textures, made even more enticing by the chew from the pork. Whispers of basil precede the lingering flavors from this delicious pasta dish.

I pretty much followed John’s recipe, but not having seasoned bread crumbs, I added some slat and pepper to my plain ones as well as some garlic and parsley to the rendered fat. In addition, where John used a bagged to steam cauliflower, I used frozen riced, since that what the market delivered. Likewise, not having the recipe’s penne, I substituted cavatappi. Finally, because I was cooking for two, I halved the recipe.

Pasta with Cauliflower, Pasta con Cavolfiore, (adapted from a recipe by John Fodera on his Tuscan Vines website)



¾ cup panko bread crumbs
Kosher Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 oz. diced pancetta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large clove of garlic, minced
½ teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
10 ounces frozen riced cauliflower
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, divided
8 ounces cavatappi, penne, or other short pasta
Grated pecorino Romano, to taste


1. Season the bread crumbs with salt and pepper to taste.

2. In a sauté pan or skillet large enough to accommodate the finished pasta, render the pancetta, along with 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, over medium to low heat. Approximately, 15 to 18 minutes.

Pancetta and olive oil

3. Add the minced garlic to the pan and cook, stirring, until aromatic but not browned, approximately 2 minutes.

The rendered pancetta with garlic and crushed red pepper

4. Add the parsley to the pan and cook for about 1 minute.

Pancetta with the added parsley

5. Add the bread crumbs and toast, stirring occasionally, until deep golden brown in color, about 7 minutes. Be careful not to burn the bread crumbs. Stir even after taking off the heat to prevent any residual heat from burning the bread crumbs. Once browned, set aside until the pasta is done.

Added bread crumbs
Bread crumbs browned and toasted

6. Steam the cauliflower according to package directions, but for a shorter time than indicated on the package, approximately 2 minutes. The cauliflower will finish cooking after it’s been added to the sauce. Set aside until the pasta is almost done.

The steamed cauliflower

7. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions, until al dente. Reserve 1 to 2 cups of pasta water.

Cooking pasta

8. When the pasta is almost done, return the pan to the heat on low. Add the steamed cauliflower and 2/3 of the chopped basil to the pan and toss with the bread crumbs and pancetta to coat. You might also want to add just a little olive oil here to bring the sauce together. Check for seasoning.

Steamed cauliflower added to the bread crumbs and pancetta
Adding the basil
The finished sauce

9. When the pasta is done, transfer it with a spider or slotted spoon to the pan with the sauce. Toss the pasta with the sauce, adding some of the reserved pasta water to the sauce to moisten sufficiently for the sauce to cling to the pasta.

Transferring the pasta to the sauce
Tossing the pasta with the sauce
Adding some reserved pasta water to moisten

10. Sprinkle with some grated Romano to taste and toss to mix in the cheese.

Adding the Romano

11. Finally sprinkle with the remaining 1/3 of the basil and serve in warmed pasta bowls with additional cheese on the side.

Finishing with a sprinkle of basil

Wine Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc, Vermentino, Pinot Grigio

7 thoughts on “Pasta with Cauliflower

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