Saturday, May 10, 2014

Pasta with Cauliflower and Bacon ~ Herb Mills

Is it the bacon in the title that got your attention? I bet it was! In any case, it does add a bit of interest in both flavor and texture, although this recipe is really much more about the pasta with cauliflower which even without the bacon in the topping, is extraordinarily good.

Julian's Campanelle Pasta with Cauliflower and Bacon
This dish has become a restaurant favorite and you may have wondered how they manage to get the creamy goodness of pasts and nutty flavors of cauliflower to combine into something that is more than the sum of the parts. If you've tried it home, you find you have too many pots to wash afterwards and the results are less than you experienced at the restaurant.  I had given up trying to make it until Cooks Illustrated advanced a method I have now used with great success. I've made some minor modifications but in all it is their technique that carries the day.

3 slices bacon or 4 ounces of pancetta, diced
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large head cauliflower (3 pounds)
1 onion, chopped fine
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 pound campanelle style dry pasta
5 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley*
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Notes: You can use bacon cut into 1/4 inch pieces or pancetta (Italian style bacon) also diced. I purchase the pancetta already diced at my Italian deli. Either bacon or pancetta works fine.

The pasta you didn't know existed.
With regard to the pasta, you can use campanelle as shown above, or bow-tie or any similar sized pasta. I would not however recommend a long noodle. I found the campanelle in my grocery store isle and had no doubt passed it by for several years. It's a short curly elegent pasta and if your grocer carries it do pick up a box.

Cook bacon in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until crispy. With the bacon still in the pan, add the panko bread crumbs and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring regularly, until panko is well browned, 2-4 minutes. Transfer mixture to a bowl and wipe out the skillet.

Browned Pancetta and Panko Break Crumbs
Core and cut the cauliflower into 1-inch pieces. Heat about 5 teaspoons of oil in the now-empty skillet over medium-high heat until simmering. Add the cauliflower and 1 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until it is brown in spots and still crisp, but somewhat tender. Taste for doneness. It should not be overly soft or it will break up while combining with the pasta.

Fried Cauliflower ~ Good even on its own!
Heat remaining 1 teaspoon oil in a Dutch oven or other large heavy pot until shimmering. Add onion, thyme and a pinch of salt. Cook stirring frequently, until onion has softened about 5 minutes. Increase heat to high, add dry pasta, broth and wine and bring to a simmer. Cook pasta, stirring frequently until most of the liquid is absorbed and pasts is al dente, about 8-10 minutes.

Remove pot from heat; stir in parsley, lemon juice and cauliflower. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve topped with panko/bacon mixture.


*Microplane Herb Mills
Here is another of my kitchen gadgets. They call it an herb mill.  It was a gift but I do use it from time to time, as it does give a good result when you want leafy herbs finely chopped. You simply place fresh parsley, cilantro, dill, sage or mint in the mill, then twist the handle. The blades quickly mince even large quantities of herbs without tearing or bruising the leaves. Be warned however that the leaves, as is true when chopping with a knife, should be very dry which means washing them several hours in advance. After use, the device is surprisingly easy to clean out under running water. Let dry thoroughly before storage.

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