Thursday, March 22, 2007

Wish You Could Smell This Picture

Yeah, yeah, I'd heard it all . . . Chez Panisse this and Alice Waters that . . . New American cuisine . . . Yaddayaddayadda.

Not that I doubted her expertise or the monumental changes she and her cohorts brought to our neighborhood grocery stores - I just had a hard time believing her recipes were all that.

Well, I tip my hat (or do I eat it?).

While visiting A in PrettyLittleTown, I picked up Chez Panisse Vegetables at the most drool-inducing gourmet kitchen supply store your sweet eyes have ever seen. A then had to endure me reading recipe titles aloud to her while we were both supposed to be concentrating on Very Important Things (namely, TV so trashy you can only watch it with your best friend). I read the book cover to cover before I arrived home, and it is taking every fibre of self-control in my being to stop myself from ordering Chez Panisse Fruit from (Must. Control. Self. Hands! Clicking! Mouse! NO! Breathe. Breathe.)

But seriously, folks, this recipe is delicious. The flavors and textures are perfect, and the lovely toasty walnuts and smooth ricotta salata bring it all together. When I mentioned to Our Hero that I was making pasta with cauliflower, he made a face. After he tasted it and was headed back for a second heaping bowl, he admitted he was upset because he liked it so much. I suppose liking cauliflower pasta could ruin a guy's image.

The pictures do not capture the beautiful interplays of browns, golds, and yellows in this dish. It's not monochromatic at all, but full of very subtle, delicate contrasts. Lovely.

Alice Waters' Whole-Wheat Pasta with Cauliflower, Walnuts, and Ricotta Salata
2 heads cauliflower, cut into small florets
1 medium onion, sliced into thin half-moons
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. whole wheat pasta (something shorter would work best, like penne)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Red pepper flakes
White wine vinegar
1/2 lemon
1/2 cup toasted walnuts (you can do this in the oven or on the stovetop)
4 oz. ricotta salata or feta cheese

Put a large pot of water on to boil. Saute the cauliflower in a healthy amount of olive oil in a large, shallow pan. When it starts to soften, season with salt and pepper, then add the sliced onion and red pepper flakes. Cauliflower and onion will brown. Saute over medium to high heat until veggies are tender and golden-brown. The cauliflower should still be slightly crunchy and not taste steamed. Add garlic and remove from heat. Stir, and do not let garlic brown (add water if necessary). Add a bit of vinegar and the lemon juice and the toasted walnuts. Taste and correct seasoning (add more salt, pepper, vinegar, etc.). When pasta is done, toss with the cauliflower mixture. Serve with crumbled ricotta salata.


Anonymous said...

The BF and I enjoyed this dish tonight with a lovely glass of La Ferme Julien from Trader Josephe. I read the ingredients too fast before my trip to Fairway and bought regular ricotta by mistake - whoops! So we added more vinegar and lemon to balance out the sweetness and, luckily, saved the dish. It was a creamy wonderful affair. The cauliflower and onion mixture, sans pasta and cheese, would make a wonderful side dish, as well.

wellunderstood said...

sounds like a wonderful evening! i'm glad you liked it as much as we did, and your idea about a side dish is brilliant.

oh, and p.s. - our hero ordered me the "chez panisse fruit" last night. sigh. this is why he's our hero.