Unpacking my first CSA box felt a bit like opening presents on Christmas morning. (Note: I’m Jewish but I date a non-Jew, so I know what I’m talking about.) There was the going to bed the night before, knowing the box would arrive the next day; the anticipation, getting out of bed that next morning, going to the front door; and the actual physical pleasure of tearing open the box to finally see what was inside it. You already know the answer from my CSA post, but the most delightful surprise was a head of purple cauliflower. I’d never cooked with purple cauliflower before and I loved the challenge of building a dinner around it.
There she is again for those of you who missed it:
Ain’t she a beaut?
Here’s what I was thinking: I make an amazing cauliflower pasta–my Heaven and Hell Cauliflower Pasta–with regular cauliflower. Why couldn’t I do something similar with purple cauliflower? The only difficulty was that it was late in the day, I was pooped from emceeing the food tent at the L.A. Times Book Festival, and all I had was spaghetti. That recipe doesn’t work with spaghetti because you have big chunks of cauliflower that pair better with a ziti or a rigatoni; the only way this would work with spaghetti is if I cut the cauliflower into really teeny florets. Which is exactly what I did:
You see it there, above, with the rest of my prepped ingredients: 4 cloves of garlic (also from the CSA) finely minced and mixed with 6 anchovies finely chopped and a teaspoon of red chile flakes. Also, some golden raisins in a separate ramekin. (For those who know my Heaven and Hell pasta, I decided to do away with the fennel seeds; I wanted a fresher flavor profile.)
To start, I filled my Dutch oven with water and brought it to a boil (the width of it is good for cooking spaghetti); seasoning it well with salt (“Pasta water should taste like broth,” said Scott Conant on stage with me yesterday; that’s a good tip from a pasta master, and a good tip for me to hear because I usually season pasta water to taste like the sea. That’s too much salt.) When the water was just coming to a boil, I added 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of olive oil to my wide skillet and added half the garlic/anchovy mixture.
I turned up the heat and when that started to sizzle and the anchovies began to melt a bit into the oil, I added all the cauliflower florets and a pinch of salt.
At that moment, I added the spaghetti to the boiling water because I wanted the starch to start to release for the pasta water which would factor in momentarily.
Once the cauliflower was nicely coated in the garlicky oil, and it started to cook a bit, I added the golden raisins to the pan:
And a big ladle of pasta water. I turned up the heat so the cauliflower pan was at a high simmer and then I covered it with the lid so the cauliflower would cook all the way through and the flavors would marry; two minutes later, I had this:
Note how plump those raisins get.
Continue to let the cauliflower sauce simmer, adding pasta water as needed, until the spaghetti is just al dente (you have to taste to know, but shoot for a minute less than the cooking time on the package). Just when the pasta’s there, add the rest of your garlic/anchovy mixture to the cauliflower:
I love how that looks. Isn’t that wild?
At that moment, stir all around and then add all of your spaghetti with tongs.
Turn the heat to high, add a ladleful of pasta water, and toss with the tongs until the spaghetti soaks up all that purple cauliflower sauce.
Take the pan off the heat, add a drizzle of cold olive oil and a big handful of grated Pecorino cheese.
Just for kicks, I decided to add a handful of CSA mizuna for color but also freshness. (You could use arugula or parsley or any fresh green herb you like.)
Tossed that all around and behold: Spaghetti with Purple Cauliflower Sauce.
As wacky as this dish may seem, it was undeniably delicious. Somehow the garlic and anchovies ground everything, the raisins lend their sweetness, and the cheese helps everything cohere. I ate way more of this than I should have, but I’m not ashamed.
Just goes to show you: when life throws you a purple cauliflower? Make purple cauliflower sauce. You won’t regret it.
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