Spaghetti with Purple Cauliflower Sauce

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.

12 thoughts on “Spaghetti with Purple Cauliflower Sauce”

  1. As cool as this is (and it is…any way of supporting local/regional farmers – especially certified organic – rocks)…your CSA isn’t exactly a CSA. It’s more of a food distribution service and you’re 3rd in line as opposed to being 2nd, which is what CSAs are about. I read the Summerland website before responding and they don’t use the term CSA on the website as far as I’ve seen. I’d call what you’re using a local food delivery service, so you’re not really a CSA member yet. Here’s a USDA piece on CSAs…

    CSAs are direct arrangements between farmers and eaters and either one can be the main organizers. However ideally, the members do more of the organizing/PR work as part of the point of CSA is to allow farmers to farm and not have to be marketing mavens. Often it’s one farm involved in a CSA but if it’s more than one, it’s organized by the eaters or one of the farmers who’s willing to do the extra coordinating work.

    Back when CSAs first started in Japan (in the 1960s), the translation of the word used was “face of a farmer” as the deal was to know where your food is coming from and who exactly is growing it. You don’t know either. Even though I get my CSA food from a CSA pick up site, I can drive to my CSA farm because I know where it is, and the names of everyone at the farm and their family members. Summerland doesn’t list the names of the farmers or wholesale operations it’s working with. There isn’t even photos of the two owners of Summerland. If you’d like to know more about CSAs, the CSA bible is Sharing the Harvest by CSA godmother Elizabeth Henderson (and buy it please from its publisher, Chelsea Green, as she gets more of the money that way).

    The farther away the farmer is from the eater, and the more the market tries to satisfy the desires of eaters (I want what I want, when I want it, don’t want to pay a lot, and want it delivered to my house), is what created the way we got into the big ag mess in the first place (and don’t think there isn’t a big organic ag mess in the making because as the market for organic keeps growing, there is).
    Not wanting to be, or getting any pleasure out of being, a groovekiller, conspiracy theorist, or just plain cranky, I do think words mean something and think writers have a responsibility to know what they mean.
    Just sayin’…

    1. Adam Amateur Gourmet

      Hi OrganicGal,
      Thanks for the thoughtful post. You raise some really good points and I’m going to investigate further to make sure I really know where this food is coming from. (But the friend who recommended it is dating a chef who cares deeply about these issues, so I have a good feeling about it.) Will report back when I learn more. Best,

      1. You’re a busy guy…you trust your friend…they did the groundwork…I’m sure it’s good people doing good work and giving you good food…sounds good to me too! It just doesn’t make it a CSA unless it’s standing for Curated Sustainable Agriculture (as opposed to the original Community Supported Agriculture) since these guys are a 3rd party curating the food boxes from multiple sources…none of which they farm themselves. So, they’re not the farmers, and they’re not the eaters (I’m sure they eat what they sell but you know what I mean), so they’re not a CSA.
        So enough about all that…the above dish looks amazing and I’m sure it was deeelish!

  2. What an interesting post by organicgal! I didn’t do that reaearch, but was just thinking that the downside for me to joining a CSA is that I love going to one, or sometimes two, local farmers’ markets every week.

    That said, surprise veggies can lead to creative meals.

    Btw Adam, the recipe for cauliflower kugel in last Saturday’s LA Times was a winner. It would be so beautiful made with purple cauli.

    1. Hi mbs!
      There are different types of CSAs and there may, or may not, be one near you that floats your boat.
      1. Pick up on a farm…you get the most local farm-to-table experience
      2. Pick up at a CSA site not at the farm…these can range from picking up a pre-packaged box at someone’s garage where you might not see another human being all season (or home delivery where you also don’t see any other CSA members or farm workers…some groups make up for this by having potlucks and visits to the farm), to ones that looks like a farmer’s market with food on tables and members have to pack and weigh food themselves (according to weekly lists from the farmer) and has a greenmarket vibe to it.
      What I suggest to people is to visit the CSA you want to join (more then one in your area, visit them all) and check it out, You should be able to see what’s in the CSA share by a visit or photo to gauge if it will be too much (find someone to share with), too little (buy more than one share), or just right for you.
      Keep in mind that being a CSA member doesn’t mean you won’t want to, or need, to visit your local greenmarket. If you’re having a party, the CSA share might not cover what you need. In fruit season I NEVER get enough fruit in my CSA share so I’m making a weekly visit to the farm I get my berries (straw, blue, rasp). Different CSAs may or may not offer optional “add-ons” of bread, meat, cheese, flowers, etc, so if it’s part of your shopping list, you might still be at the greenmarket for what the CSA doesn’t provide on any given week.
      On a certain level, farmer’s markets are pains in the asses for farmers. The schedule is brutal. Depending on how far the drive, you’re up at 2am on Friday to start loading the trucks at 3am, to get out by 4am, for a 2 hour drive to get into NYC by 6am, be ready for customers at 7am, be perky, social and alert during the market (ever seen anyone napping at one? I haven’t but they probably should), shut down at 6pm, back home around 8pm, eat, wind down (?), get to sleep (?), and possibly do it again for the next two days…and then it’s out in the fields Monday AM.
      As much as farmers like the positive feedback and energy from customers…if you think they’d rather do the greenmarket thing then have another way to sell their foodstuffs (and not lose money by selling wholesale) which allowed them to spend more time on the farm and with their families, relatives and friends…it’s something to think about. That said, I’m not calling for an end to greenmarkets, and not every farmer wants to, or has the skill sets, to be a good CSA farmer (it’s an art, and many have tried and after a year figured out it wasn’t right for them) . We need all these ways of farmers and eaters connecting (by any means neccessary? she says with a smile).

      1. Thanks organicgal, but for me, there’s no downside to shopping at farmers markets. I admire the CSA concept, but love picking my own produce.

  3. I love making broccoli pasta sauce in my food processor. I bet a purple cauliflower pesto/sauce would be the most wild and glorious color!

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