Adding vegetables to a baked pasta dish is a wonderful way to slim it down and make it a little bit healthier. My son enjoyed this version as much as our standard super cheesy baked ziti. Not only does this version incorporate cauliflower, it is also upgraded by adding flavor from saffron and anchovies.
This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Martha Rose Shulman. The dish was inspired by another Sicilian cauliflower dish in Clifford A. Wright’s “Cucinia Paradiso.” I modified the recipe by roasting the cauliflower, increasing the garlic and tomatoes, using whole wheat pasta, and incorporating mozzarella cheese. Great.
Yield: Serves 6
- 1 medium cauliflower, about 2 pounds, leaves and stem trimmed, cut into florets
- coarse salt, to taste
- pinch of saffron threads
- 2-4 T extra virgin olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 anchovy fillets, rinsed and chopped
- 1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes, with juice
- freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 2 T chopped flat leaf parsley
- ¾ pound ziti or penne rigate (I used whole wheat penne)
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces) pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
- 1/2 pound part-skim mozzarella cheese, grated
- Preheat an oven to 425 degrees, preferably on convection roast.
- On a parchment paper lined, rimmed baking sheet, toss the cauliflower florets with 1-2 tablespoons of the olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until tender.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees, on convection.
- Place the saffron in a small bowl and add 3 tablespoons warm water. Let steep for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Combine the grated cheeses in a bowl.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet and add the garlic. Cook, stirring, until it smells fragrant, about 30 seconds to a minute, and add the anchovies and tomatoes. Season to taste with salt (remembering that the anchovies will contribute a lot of salt) and freshly ground pepper.
- Turn the heat down to medium-low and cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes have cooked down and smell fragrant, about 10 minutes.
- Stir in the roasted cauliflower, saffron with its soaking water, and parsley, cover and simmer for another 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Taste and adjust seasonings.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt generously. Add the pasta. Cook until just al dente, a few minutes less than you would cook it to serve. It will soften further when it bakes. (I cooked the whole wheat penne noodles for 5 minutes, 2 minutes shy of al dente.) Drain and transfer to a bowl.
- Oil a 3-quart baking dish. Toss the pasta with half the cauliflower mixture and half the cheese and spoon into the baking dish.
- Combine the remaining cauliflower mixture with half of the remaining cheese and spoon over the pasta.
- Sprinkle the rest of the cheese over the top. Drizzle on the remaining tablespoon of oil.
- Place in the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until bubbling. Garnish with parsley, if desired. Serve hot.
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