Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower, Figs, and Mint

Debbie Koenig, the Brooklyn mom behind Words to Eat By, has a cookbook coming out in January 2012 called Parents Need to Eat Too. She needed parents with babies to test some recipes and since I haven't been cooking much and needed motivation to get back in the kitchen, I signed up. 

I decided to test the first one on Tuesday night. But after the boys were both in bed, all I wanted to do was collapse on the couch and watch a few episodes of Glee. (I recently started watching and am hooked. It's totally cheesy at times. Come to think of it, the singing and dancing can make me simultaneously smile and cringe. Oh, and I have crushes on Finn and Puck and Mr. Schuster.)

I reminded myself about the cauliflower that had been in our fridge for a while. And about the pack of pine nuts I splurged on at Union Market and needed to use up before I was able to get to the food coop and see how much less they would have cost there. I came really close to popping a frozen pizza in the oven and putting off the recipe testing for another night. Daniel encouraged me to just do it, saying the process might be therapeutic. It's not as if I'd be less tired another day.  Debbie's cookbook is devoted to sleep-deprived parents after all. Clearly, I was the ideal guinea pig.

Once I started chopping, roasting and sauteing, I actually had a lot of fun writing notes on the recipe about things I'd tweak. When I finished about an hour later, I did watch Glee, while digging into a dish I loved, its combination of sweet and savory flavors and a hint of heat so surprising. It even saved me the next day when Leo, my 10-month old tank, was ready for lunch before 12pm. I took out the portion I'd reserved for him—Debbie says to put some aside before adding red pepper flakes—cut it into small pieces and watched as he used his chubby hands to feed himself a big serving.

Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower, Figs, and Mint
From Debbie Koenig
Serves 4

1 medium head cauliflower, cored and separated into small florets
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 large cloves garlic, minced
10 small dried figs, diced (I like Mission figs, but any will do)
A good handful of fresh mint, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
One box (12 to 14.5 ounces) whole grain pasta of your choice

Stage 1 (45 minutes, much of it oven time):
1. Preheat the oven to 425F. Line or grease a rimmed baking sheet and set aside.

2. Cut the cauliflower and toss in a large bowl with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.  Spread on the prepared baking sheet in a single layer, and roast for 20 minutes.

3. While it’s roasting, dice the figs and put in a small bowl. Add ½ cup boiling water, cover, and set aside.

4. Mince the garlic and refrigerate in a small covered bowl. Chop the herbs. Put the mint in a small bowl and refrigerate, covered. Set the rosemary aside; you’ll be using it in a few minutes.

5. After 20 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle with the chopped rosemary. Toss the cauliflower with the herb and return it to the oven. Roast an additional 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and cover loosely; no need to refrigerate.

Stage 2 (10 minutes; if doing in two sessions combine with Stage 3):
1. Toast the pine nuts in a dry nonstick skillet over medium heat, shaking the pan frequently, until golden brown. Watch closely; they go from brown to burned in a heartbeat. Remove from pan and set aside; no need to refrigerate.

2. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet. When it shimmers, add the minced garlic and cook, stirring, just until the aroma fills the kitchen, about 30 seconds. Add the anchovy paste and break it up with the back of a spoon. It will dissolve into the garlic and oil. If you’re not serving the finished dish to a youngun, stir in the red pepper flakes; if you are, reserve them to add at the end, after you’ve taken out the child’s portion.

3. Pluck the figs from the bowl (save the soaking water), add them to the skillet, and cook until the pan is dry. Add a tablespoon or two of the reserved fig water, and cook again until the pan is dry.

4. Add to the cauliflower mixture and set aside; no need to refrigerate. Hold on to the remaining fig water, separately.

Stage 3 (25 minutes):
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta according to package directions.

2. Once the pasta goes into the water, put the cauliflower and figs in a skillet large enough to eventually hold the pasta, too. Add most of the mint (reserve about 1 tablespoon) and cook over low-medium heat. Add a splash of the reserved fig water if it looks dry. Turn off the heat if the pasta’s not ready yet—this shouldn’t look super-saucy, but you don’t want it to be dry, either.

3. Before draining the pasta, reserve ½ cup of the cooking water. When the pasta is cooked to your liking, drain (it’s ok if it’s still fairly wet) and toss it into the skillet over low heat.

4. Stir everything together, adding more of the fig water and/or pasta cooking water until a light sauce forms. If you’ve held off on the red pepper flakes, remove baby’s portion and stir them in now.

5. Serve with the toasted pine nuts and reserved mint sprinkled over each bowl.

Leave out the red pepper flakes until you remove baby’s portion. If you’re on purees, you’ve got choices: Reserve some of the cauliflower and puree it separately with some of the plumped-up figs and a splash of the fig water, or puree the entire dish. For finger foods, the entire dish can be safely served to a baby—just chop the pine nuts to avoid a choking hazard.


Nancie McDermott said...

Your Leo sounds like a smart kid --- after seeing your photo, and reading about how you got there, I wanted to reach in and eat it with both hands, too! I'm a Debbie K. fan already; thanks for a taste of her book.

Lia said...

Nancie, I wish I'd remembered to take a photo of Leo going to town on the pasta! It was very funny. I'm so happy he loves to eat.

debbie koenig said...

So glad you liked it, Lia! Thanks so much for helping me out. (And kisses to you, Nancie!)

FYI this recipe's from a chapter on Nap-Time Cooking. It's written specifically to be prepared in stages, during a newborn's multiple naps. For a more linear version that's a teeny bit different, check out this one: http://wordstoeatby.blogspot.com/2005/03/pasta-with-roasted-cauliflower-figs.html


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