Pasta dishes were very common in my Italian family's home as a first course but were not unusual as a main course. Any type of vegetable in season could be made into a pasta dish using a good olive oil and garlic as a base and a dusting of grated cheese.
Several times a week we would have meatless meals but they were always full of flavor and enjoyable. It wasn't that we could not afford to have meat since my Dad had his own butcher store, it was just the Italian or should I say the Europeon way of cooking meatless meals more than once on week nights.
The dish I'm referring to that was the inspiration for this recipe is my mother's Cauliflower with Spaghetti "Cavolfiore con Spaghetti" served with lots of grated Parmigiano cheese.
At times my mother would toss in toasted pignolis or oil cured olives with the garlic and oil for extra gusto. It's the type of dish that comes to the rescue when you want to have something quick and healthy on the table and it always hit the spot.
My love of baked macaroni and cheese and cauliflower motivated me to create the following recipe using gruyere cheese and I alternate it with mozzarella or use a mixture of the two.The cauliflower adds texture and interest to this pasta dish and the small amount of hot pepper flakes gives it a little zip. I prefer Mostacholi pasta with this recipe but use whatever pasta shape and cheese you have on hand.
1 large cauliflower, cut into flowerets
8 ounces Mostacholi pasta
7 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepperoncini (optional)
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups half and half or milk
3/4 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano cheese
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
Add 1 cup Mozzarella or Gruyere cheese
Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly butter an oven-proof casserole dish. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet; add minced garlic then breadcrumbs, stirring until slightly toasted. Remove from heat. Add 2 tablespoons Parmigiano cheese.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add Mastacholi and cauliflower flowerets and cook as directed until pasta is al dente and cauliflower is crisp-tender, about 6 minutes. Drain; put back in the same pot. Add 1 tablespoon of butter, stirring to melt and coat the pasta and cauliflower.
Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in saucepan; using a whisk, blend in 4 tablespoons of flour, salt, pepper and pepperoncini if using. Cook over low-medium heat, stirring for 1 minute. While stirring, add the half and half and heat until hot and slightly thickened, 3 minutes; do not boil. Stir in seasoning, Gruyere and Parmigiano cheese until smooth and bubbly. Pour cheese sauce over cauliflower and pasta and gently stir to coat. Put into the buttered casserole. Top with the bread crumbs. Bake at 375° for 15-20 minutes, or until bubbly. Garnish with the parsley. Serves 6 - 8
From Amelia's Kitchen Cookbook "Mangiare e Casa"
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