Cauliflower puttanesca pasta with lemony breadcrumbs

Perfect for a plant-foward meal, this twist on the classic puttanesca features braised cauliflower florets, which act like sponges soaking up all the garlicky, briny flavors of the sauce. Puttanesca gets its punch from a combo of anchovies, garlic, capers, and olives. The bold flavor of the puttanesca sauce can already hold its own, but when topped with a shower of lemony, golden-brown breadcrumbs, the texture is out of this world. I enjoy topping leftovers with a crispy fried egg (runny yolk of course) – maybe even an excuse to eat pasta for breakfast?

To make this dish vegetarian, you can leave out the anchovies and bump up the amount of capers and olives to add that extra umami. To make it vegan, also leave out the parmesan or swap with some nutritional yeast.

A note about fresh breadcrumbs: For this recipe, fresh breadcrumbs are really the way to go. Any time you have stale bread, instead of throwing it away, chop it into about 1-inch pieces and throw it into the food processor. (I leave the crust on unless it is a pretty dark crust.) Pulse it until you have pea-sized crumbs. If you don’t plan to use them right away, freeze them to have fresh breadcrumbs anytime you need them – you don’t even need to thaw them before use. If you must substitute, you can try panko breadcrumbs, but they may become hard and crunchy, rather than airy and crispy.

Adapted from Food52

Ingredients

1 pound linguine or spaghetti (or whatever pasta you have)

2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup olive oil, divided

4 anchovies or 1 tablespoon anchovy paste

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons non-pareil capers, drained

1 to 2 cups of pitted and halved olives, such as kalamata or Castraveltrano (go with 1 cup if you just want a little salty punch, 2 cups if you are an olive lover like me and want a bit of olive in nearly every bite)

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste

1 large head cauliflower (about 2 pounds), broken into florets

1 pound fresh tomatoes, cut into large bite-sized pieces (such as quartered campari or roma tomatoes)

Finely grated zest from 1 large lemon

Juice from 1/2 a lemon, or more to taste

Kosher salt (I love Diamond Crystal) and freshly ground black pepper

Grated parmesan for serving (optional)

Lemony breadcrumbs (optional – recipe below)

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a handful of salt (about 2 tablespoons) and the pasta. Cook until al dente according to package directions – err on the side of underdone than overdone so the pasta can finish cooking in the sauce. Before straining, reserve 1 cup of the cooking water. (If your linguine is done before your cauliflower, toss it will a little olive oil and pasta water to keep it from sticking together.)
  2. While the pasta cooks, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a Dutch oven or other large, deep pan over medium heat. Add anchovies or anchovy paste and stir until they melt into the oil, about 1 minute. Add the garlic, capers, olives, and red pepper flakes, and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes.
  3. Add cauliflower florets, lemon zest from 1 lemon, and remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil. Season with a few pinches of salt and pepper. Stir to combine and let sauté for a few minutes to start cooking the cauliflower. Add the tomatoes and sauté 1 more minute.
  4. Add 1/4 to 3/4 cup of pasta water to make about 1″ of juice in the pan. If the tomatoes were large and very juicy, you may only need 1/4 cup of pasta water to give the cauliflower enough liquid to braise. If you are using smaller, firmer tomatoes, use the full 3/4 cup. Cover and braise until tender, about 10 minutes, depending on the size of the florets. Feel free to stir occasionally and add a little extra cooking water, if needed. Adjust seasonings to taste.
  5. Once the cauliflower is about done, toss the pasta in the pot with the cauliflower. If the sauce has become a little dry, add 1/4 to 1/3 cup more pasta water. Add the juice from the lemon you zested (to taste – I used the whole lemon but start with half) and do a final taste for seasoning. To finish, top with grated parmesan cheese and lemony breadcrumbs (if using). If you want to go really over the top, throw on a crispy egg with a runny yolk.

Lemony Breadcrumbs

2 cups fresh breadcrumbs (see note above)

1/4 cup olive oil

Zest of 1 large lemon

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a medium-large skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add breadcrumbs and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until deeply golden brown and crunchy, about 5 to 6 minutes.
  3. Remove breadcrumbs from heat and add lemon zest and parsley. Transfer to a bowl to cool before serving.

Note: The breadcrumbs can be made and refrigerated up to 5 days ahead without the lemon zest and parsley. To use, reheat in a skillet and then toss in the additional ingredients.

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