Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Gemelli with cauliflower, crispy prosciutto and sage

As we all know, smothering things in cheese (at absolute minimum, not the orange goo that came in the box) is delicious, but cauliflower is a much more versatile vegetable than most people realize. Back in the days of the Atkins craze my sister would steam and puree it in place of mashed potatoes, which was good, but decidedly not going to fool anyone. In my opinion, the optimal cauliflower preparation method is roasting, thanks to the magic of caramelization. One of my favorite sides of all time is roasted cauliflower and green olive pasta, with all its salty olive loveliness, dotted with crunchy pine nuts and a smattering of Parmesan. I serve it under broiled salmon with a squeeze of lemon on a near-weekly basis.

But I was ready to branch out from ole faithful, and found this whilst thumbing through the latest Everyday Food. This recipe calls for browning the cauliflower in a pan instead of oven, but the effect is the same: caramelized tasty goodness.

The recipe called for bacon, but I had two lonely slices of a very nice 24 month prosciutto in the fridge without purpose, so I used them instead. Frying prosciutto is so cool, it becomes almost translucent and gets so crispy and savory, it's absolutely heavenly. Maybe even better than bacon... don't tell bacon I said that. I have room for both in my heart.

When I was a wee one and in the (unusually long) phase of carrying my stuffed animal friends everywhere, I would gently rub my thumb against the fur on the insides of their little ears, constantly. That's where the softest fur on the animal would be, always in the ears. Sage reminds me of those little ears, so very soft and perfectly shaped for a wee thumb to rub. And the smell, at once musky yet pure and clean, is one of my absolute favorites. It elevates the dish entirely, please don't skip it or use dried sage. Besides, shouldn't you be thinking about reviving your herb garden? It's almost March, people!

I served with a couple of grilled sausages to round it out.

~ 4oz gemelli or other short pasta
reserve 1/4 cup pasta water

2 slices prosciutto, cut into thin slivers (don't trim the fat, it will melt and you want that flavor)
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 a medium onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 a medium head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 tbsp fresh sage leaves, chopped
1 tsp red wine vinegar

Start a pot of water to boil for your pasta while you prep everything else. When boiling, add a good pinch of kosher salt and your pasta. Cook until about 30 seconds shy of the package directions. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water, and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large non-stick skillet and when hot, fry your prosciutto until crispy. It should only take about 3 or 4 minutes, and watch that the pan doesn't get too hot, because they burn easily. Transfer the prosciutto to a small bowl and set aside. To the skillet, add the butter, onion, and garlic and cook over a medium flame until softened, about 10 minutes. Now add the cauliflower with a pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and cover, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is tender and browned in places, about another 10 minutes. Add the prosciutto back to the pan along with the sage and toss for a moment until it becomes fragrant.

Now, add the pasta to the pan along with the reserved pasta water and red wine vinegar. Toss to coat everything thoroughly.

Serves 2, takes about half an hour.

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