What this recipe lacks in title creativity, it more than makes up for in flavor and fun. It’s got caramelized bits of cauliflower and shallots, lots of lemon and Parmesan in a creamy yet light sauce. This makes for a savory and satisfying one dish dinner with next day lunch potential.
For those of you who generally think of cauliflower as boring or bland, you’ll be stunned at how good it could be with just a little TLC. I grew up eating cauliflower as part of a boiled or steamed “vegetable medley” or raw in a ranch-centric crudite party platter and didn’t realize it’s potential for deliciousness until I made Heidi Swanson’s simple recipe in the 00s. It converted me into a cauliflower fan, and I’ve been making it and other iterations of pan fried or roasted cauliflower ever since.
Why It Works
Something magical happens when you combine brown and crisped cauliflower with fresh lemon. In this recipe, you roast the cauliflower and shallots to ensure they’re well browned. It’s easier to do this in the oven where they can spread out vs. being crowded in a pan.
While that’s happening, you boil the pasta and reserve some of the pasta water to make a lemony sauce that’s creamy and savory but not too heavy. Finally, everything comes together in the pasta pot for a medley of flavors that hit every button and keep things interesting to the last bite. You’ve got sweet caramelized shallots, fresh lemon zest and scallions and earthy cauliflower all in creamy and tangy sauce. Don’t let the unassuming color fool you. No bland pasta here!
Some Like It Hot
I wrote and tested this recipe with just a moderate amount of red pepper flakes to ensure it was tasty for all tolerance levels. If you like things spicy, feel free to increase the red pepper flakes or do as I usually do and add a big teaspoon Calabrian chili paste (Trader Joe’s Chili Bomba) instead. The chili paste add heat and also a bit of funky and richness that plays well with the cauliflower.
But How Do You Cut It?
A big head of cauliflower can be intimidating, but it’s really hard to go wrong when your goal is simply to get it into bite sized pieces. You should look for cauliflower that’s free of blemishes but if you end up with a few brown spots, you can cut them off and keep it moving. Check out the photo guide below to see how I did it.
Another option is to buy pre-cut fresh cauliflower and just cut each floret into bite size pieces. No pressure. It will be great either way!
Lemony Roasted Cauliflower Pasta
Caramelized cauliflower, Parmesan and lemon come together for a bright and satisfying one dish meal
This pasta is a great dinner on it’s own; however, you could also serve it with a side salad or add some additional protein at the end. I’m thinking chickpeas or crab would be delicious.
****MAKE SURE TO SAVE PASTA WATER **** It contains starch which helps thicken the sauce. If you forget, you can add regular water and just cook it down for a few additional minutes to thicken the sauce.
Time saving tip: start with a bag of pre-cut, fresh cauliflower florets and just break them down further into bite size pieces
- 1 medium head of cauliflower (~2 lbs whole or 3-4 cups of florets)
- 3 shallots
- extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large lemon
- fine salt
- 8 oz spaghetti (1/2 a box)
- 1/2 tsp red chili flakes (or more to taste)
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2/3 cup heavy cream
- 1 oz Parmesan cheese (~1/2 cup finely shredded)
- 2 scallions or handful of chives
- Calabrian chili paste (optional swap for chili flakes)
- large baking sheet
- large pot for pasta
- cutting board
- chef’s knife or similar
- tongs for mixing pasta
- large drinking glass
- measuring cup
- Pre-heat the oven to 400 deg F (rack should be in the middle of the oven). Fill the pasta pot with water, and a handful of salt and bring it to a boil over high heat.
- Peel and slice the 3 shallots into thick (~1/3 inch) pieces. Don’t separate the slices into rings. We want them to stay together so they cook at the same pace as the cauliflower. I like to wash the cauliflower in the colander after chopping and dry it as much as can with a paper towel. Cut the cauliflower into bite size pieces (see the photo guide above for more direction).
- Place the chopped cauliflower and shallots on the baking sheet, drizzle on olive oil (1-2 Tbsp, just enough to coat) and sprinkle on 1 tsp of salt. Mix everything together with your hands and spread the vegetables out into a single layer. Place the baking sheet in the oven and roast for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, should be starting to brown. Use tongs or a spatula to flip and mix the vegetables and continue roasting another 5-10 minutes until the shallots are soft and beginning to brown on the edges. Let the veggies rest on the tray.
- While the vegetables are roasting, you’ll cook the pasta and prep the remaining ingredients. Once the water comes to a boil cook the pasta following timing on the box. Make sure to SAVE PASTA WATER before draining the pasta. When the pasta is done. Turn off the heat and use the drinking glass to carefully scoop out at least a cup (8oz) of water. Drain the pasta in the colander. Place the pot back on the stove.
- Slice the garlic into thin pieces. Zest the lemon then cut it in half. Grate 1oz of Parmesan cheese and any additional you may want for topping. Thinly slice the scallions or chives.
- Make the sauce in the now empty pasta pot. Turn the heat to medium and pour 1 Tbsp of olive oil into the pot. Add the sliced garlic, 1 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of pepper flakes (or chili paste if using). Stir the mixture continuously until the garlic is just beginning to turn golden brown. Immediately add the 2/3 cup of cream and 2/3 cup of water and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes stirring occasionally. Once you see small bubbles across the surface, add in the roasted cauliflower and shallots and juice of half a lemon. Mix everything together with the tongs then add in the pasta, half the lemon zest, half of the scallion or chives.
- Once the pasta and sauce are mixed, turn the heat off. Sprinkle on 1oz of shredded Parmesan and mix it in with the tongs. There should a little bit of sauce in the bottom of the pot. If it looks dry, drizzle in a little more pasta water and make mix adjusting till you have the right consistency.
- Top each portion of pasta with a bit of the remaining lemon zest and chives or scallions and more Parmesan if you like. Enjoy!
Reheating: The pasta will absorb some of the sauce, but it will still be tasty. You can sprinkle on a couple drop of water when you reheat it in the microwave.