Garlic and feta cheese liven up this easy main-course dish
Cauliflower and olives. Can they really get along?
Yup, turns out they’re a sensational together, particularly over pasta. Liven up their pairing with some garlic and feta, and a splash of quickly-made tomato sauce. Add a salad and maybe some crusty bread or garlic toast, and dinner is served.
This dish is easy enough to make on a busy weekday. But it’s tasty enough for guests too.
Two recipes in one. We like that.
Recipe: Pasta with Cauliflower and Olives
Although cauliflower’s peak season is autumn, you can find it in abundance throughout the year. Lately, we’ve been seeing excellent cauliflower at our local grocery store, and at some of the best prices in recent months. So of course it’s been hopping into our shopping cart.
We adapted this dish from a recipe in Martha Rose Shulman’s Mediterranean Harvest.
This dish is easy to make, though there are a few steps to juggle. First, make a quick tomato sauce. While that’s simmering, sauté the cauliflower until it’s soft (or use leftover roast cauliflower—see Notes.) Combine the cauliflower with the tomato sauce, add olives, and serve over freshly cooked pasta, topped with feta cheese. Done.
Prep time for this recipe is about 20 minutes. Cooking time is no more than 40 minutes.
This dish serves 4. Leftovers keep well for a few days if refrigerated in an airtight container.
For the tomato sauce:
- 1 medium onion
- 2 to 4 garlic cloves (to taste)
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- salt to taste (about ½ teaspoon kosher salt; see Notes)
- 2 or 3 pinches of red pepper flakes (optional)
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano (or to taste; may substitute marjoram)
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
- ½ medium head of cauliflower (about a pound)
- 3 or 4 garlic cloves (to taste)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- salt to taste (about ¾ teaspoon kosher salt for the cauliflower, plus a tablespoon for the pasta water; see Notes)
- ¾ pound dried pasta (something with a sturdy shape, like rigatoni or farfalle; see Notes)
- 2 to 3 pinches red pepper flakes (or to taste; optional)
- a handful of pitted Kalamata olives (15 or so; can substitute another variety if you prefer)
- 2 to 3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
- chopped parsley for garnish (optional)
For the tomato sauce:
- Peel and chop the onion into dice of ½ inch or so; set aside. Peel and mince the garlic or slice it thinly; set aside.
- Place a 3- or 4-quart saucepan on medium stovetop heat (use a wide-bottomed pan). When hot, add the olive oil. When it’s heated (it’ll shimmer), add the chopped onion. Season with salt to taste. Sauté until the onion is translucent but not brown (5 to 8 minutes).
- Add the garlic and cook for about one minute. Add the red pepper flakes (if using) and oregano; cook for 15 seconds. Add the diced tomatoes. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook 20 to 30 minutes. Allow the mixture to cook down a bit (much of the liquid should evaporate). It’s done when it tastes good to you.
- Cut a medium-sized (2 pound or so) head of cauliflower in half, and remove the core (reserve one of the halves for another use). Place the cut side of the cauliflower half flat on a cutting board and cut it into slices of ¼ inch or a bit thicker. Set aside.
- Peel the garlic and mince it or cut it into thin slices. Set aside.
- Heat a large frying pan (at least 10 inches in diameter) over medium stovetop heat. When hot, add the olive oil. When it’s heated (it’ll shimmer), add the cauliflower. Add salt to taste. Turn the heat down just a bit, and cook the cauliflower until it starts to soften (5 to 7 minutes), stirring from time to time. (You can partially cover the frying pan to speed up cooking, and we often do. But note that if you keep the frying pan uncovered, the cauliflower will turn a bit crispy, which is a nice texture for this dish.)
- Meanwhile, place a large pot of water (at least 4 quarts) on another stovetop burner (for cooking the pasta). When the water comes to a boil, add salt (we use a tablespoon, but adjust to your taste). Add the pasta, and cook according to package directions (usually 7 or 8 minutes) until it’s al dente.
- Back to the cauliflower: After 5 to 7 minutes of cooking (see Step 3), add the chopped garlic and red pepper flakes (if using). Cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender, tasty, and a bit browned. At this point, stir in the olives and add the tomato sauce. Adjust seasoning if necessary and simmer the mixture over low heat until the pasta finishes cooking (probably just another couple of minutes).
- When the pasta is done (Step 4), drain it into a colander. Pour the drained pasta into the cauliflower/tomato mixture and stir to combine.
- Dish the pasta and sauce onto serving plates. Sprinkle crumbled feta cheese over each serving. Garnish with chopped parsley (if desired), and serve.
- Feel free to substitute your favorite homemade tomato sauce for the one we describe. Or use a commercial sauce, if you prefer. You’ll need about 1½ to 2 cups (to taste).
- For this dish, we like to cook cauliflower as the recipe directs (we use lots of garlic—it adds wonderful flavor). But if you have leftover cauliflower on hand, particularly roast cauliflower, you could use that. Simply warm it in a frying pan with a bit of olive oil. Then add the seasoning, olives, and tomato sauce, and finally stir in the cooked pasta.
- We like to use a pasta with a sturdy shape. Rigatoni, farfalle, fusilli, penne, shells—they’re all good. You could increase the amount of pasta to 16 ounces if you prefer.
- Kalamata olives come from the Greek city of the same name. Their flavor is particularly nice with cauliflower. With that said, you can substitute almost any olive that you fancy.
- Feta cheese is excellent for this dish (it goes particularly well with Kalamata olives). But you could substitute parmesan if you prefer.
- We like to use parsley as a garnish on this dish—it adds a pop of color and a touch of flavor. If you want even more flavor, you could mince about a quarter cup of parsley and mix it in with the cauliflower when you add the olives.
- You could also substitute basil or mint for the parsley.
- We use kosher salt for cooking. Kosher salt has bigger flakes than table salt, so it doesn’t fill a measuring spoon as “tightly.” Hence, it’s less salty by volume. If you’re using regular table salt, use only half as much as we suggest. But always season to your taste, not ours.
“Yum, springtime comfort food,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Great for this in-between weather we’re having.”
“This dish puts a spring in my step,” I said.
“Maybe we should take a spring break from these puns,” said Mrs K R.
“Like a joke cease-fire?” I said. “Sounds like you’re extending an olive branch.”
“I thought you’d spring at that offer,” said Mrs K R. “But I guess not.”
“I take it as a challenge,” I said. “It makes me spring into action!”
“Well, olive none of that,” said Mrs K R. “I could get feta up with this.”
Better cheese it. I don’t want cauliflower ear.
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