This pasta dish originates from cucina povera – “poor cooking” – a hearty meal created with only 4 ingredients and created to be both filling and nutritious. Though the taste of cauliflower might make some balk, the pangrattato tostato – toasted breadcrumbs – elevate the flavor and offer an additional texture that makes this dish a delight.
My mother made this dish frequently as we were growing up, normally while waving off our requests for pizza or Chinese food like the other kids ate for dinner. “Questo fa bene” – this is good for you, she would tell us. We’d moan, complain we didn’t like cauliflower and put up a fight. She’d quickly put together these toasted breadcrumbs to sprinkle on top of our plates and suddenly our complaints dissipated as we’d ask for seconds. Now I make this for my daughters frequently, an easy and inexpensive way to get them to eat their vegetables. “Don’t forget the breadcrumbs!” the oldest will call out as I’m cooking, and I’m reminded how much has happened between the dinners of my youth and now, grateful some things haven’t changed at all.
Penne e Cavolfiore | Penne with Cauliflower
- 1 lb Penne pasta (or other short pasta)
- 1 large head of cauliflower, washed and separated into large florets
- 1/2 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup + 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Set a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Salt generously.
- Once the water is boiling, add the penne, followed by the cauliflower. Stir together sporadically while the pasta and cauliflower cook. Cook until the pasta is to your taste – 8-10 minutes for penne.
- Drain the pasta and cauliflower and return to the pot. Add 1/4 cup of olive oil and toss to coat. Set aside.
- Set a small saucepan or frying pan over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and 3 tablespoons of olive oil and mix together to incorporate. Continue to mix and allow the breadcrumbs to toast – they should become incredibly fragrant and darken in color – about 4-5 minutes.
- Plate the pasta and sprinkle a tablespoon or so of the toasted breadcrumbs on top. Serve immediately.