Even though summer officially arrives on June 20th, those of us from the Pacific Northwest know perfectly well that it might not be here until the middle of July, and even that can be somewhat questionable! We want to eat outside and grill everything we bring home from the market, but the weather isn’t always cooperative.
I recently found a recipe from Ina Garten that is great for those in-between times, when heavy, rich food feels wrong, but you still crave something a little heartier than light summer fare. It’s pasta, so I’m all in, it’s meatless, so it’s great for our “Meatless Mondays,” and it’s full of cheese, which is always good. If you’re in a hurry, it’s a meal in itself, or you can serve it with a green salad and a nice bottle of wine. As usual, I changed the recipe a bit to suit my own taste. Don’t be shy when you’re cooking up the cauliflower—the brown bits add a lot of flavor!
Crusty Baked Shells & Cauliflower
Freshly ground black pepper
¾ pound medium shells, such as Barilla
Good olive oil
2½ pounds cauliflower, cut into small, bite-sized florets (1 large head)
2 tablespoons fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1 tablespoon (3 cloves) garlic, minced
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups Italian Fontina, freshly grated
1 cup (8 ounces) fresh whole milk ricotta
¾ cup panko (Japanese bread flakes)
6 tablespoons Italian Pecorino cheese, freshly grated
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, minced
Preheat the oven to 400°
Fill a large pot with water, add 2 teaspoons of salt and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, according to the instructions on the package. Since it will be baked later, don’t overcook it! Drain and pour into a very large bowl.
Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a 12-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat, add half of the cauliflower in one layer and sauté for 5 to 6 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the florets are lightly browned and tender.
Pour the cauliflower, including the small bits, into the bowl with the pasta. Add 3 more tablespoons of olive oil to the sauté pan, add the remaining cauliflower, cook until browned and tender and add to the bowl.
Add the sage, capers, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper to the bowl and stir carefully.
Stir in the Fontina.
Transfer half of the mixture to a 10 x 13 x 2–inch rectangular baking dish. Spoon rounded tablespoons of ricotta on the pasta and spoon the remaining pasta mixture on top.
Combine the panko, Pecorino, parsley and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small bowl and sprinkle it evenly on top. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until browned and crusty on top. Serve hot. Serves 6-8