During my last year of high school, I met my friend Tania. She was the daughter of a Frenchwoman and a man from India, and had lived in Rome for most of her life. My mother was friends with her mother and that is how we met even before she enrolled at my high school. She had already graduated school in Italy, and was killing time before college would start in the UK in the fall.
I don’t know how it happened, but they borrowed us a small book in English with many Italian recipes, among them this gem, which my mother and I both loved in equal parts. I think it was the only recipe we ever made from it, but it really doesn’t matter, because I have made this dish – pasta with cauliflower and tomato cream sauce – many times since then. Whenever I make this dish, I think of Tania, who now has a PhD and is living the life of a successful person. I’m so happy for her, she absolutely deserves it!
Now, for this recipe: I find that it belongs in the “either you love it, or you hate it”-category. Obviously, if you hate cauliflower, like my husband, then this is not the dish for you. But, if you love tomato sauce and if you want a new twist on cauliflower, make this! Even if it’s not going to be a crowd-pleaser, but more of a highlight for only a few people, I am featuring this recipe on the blog. It is one of my favorite ways to eat pasta. I love this sauce so much that I could just eat it plain – and I have. The original recipe is a bit richer, but I have cut down the cup of heavy cream to about a fourth and find it’s still pretty rich and satisfying.
One piece of advice: do not make this with roasted cauliflower, it’s disgusting. It’s also pretty gross if you make this with canned tomatoes. So please: if you can’t get all of the ingredients fresh, then do yourself a favor and cook something else entirely, you will only be disappointed! Also, this sauce is made for pasta such as penne, fussili or orecchiette. You want to the sauce to flow inside of your noodles, to hide there and to get a good portion of sauce with each bite! I also recommend you make this during summer, which is when all of the ingredients are the peak of their deliciousness! This dish is also easily veganized, simply ommitt the creme fraiche or add a vegan cream of your choice!
½ cauliflower, washed and cut into equal-sized small pieces (about 400g)
one onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic
300g fresh tomatoes (washed and cut in half or quarters – you can also peel them beforehand, if you like)
vegetable broth (about 200 ml)
chili (fresh or powdered, whatever you happen to have) according to taste
1/3rd cup heavy cream or crème fraiche (or a vegan alternative of your choice for a vegan option)
About 250g gluten-free pasta of your choice (preferably penne or fussili)
In a pot, heat the olive oil and add the chopped onions. Allow to fry for about two minutes, add the tomatoes and fry (while stirring) for another two minutes. Add the garlic and the cauliflower, cover with vegetable broth, add the chilli and basil leaves, stir some more. Cook until cauliflower is al dente, for about seven minutes. By now, the tomato peel will have separated from the rest of your tomatoes.
If you are so inclined, you can carefully fish the pieces of tomato peel (they will have rolled themselves up) out of your sauce at this point. You can also leave them be, it depends on how fine and smooth you’d like your sauce to be. Now, using a handmixer, puree the sauce until creamy. Don’t overdo it though, you want a bit of texture! Now add the crème fraiche or heavy cream and stir well.
In a separate pot, heat a generous amount of water which you have seasoned well with salt. Boil your pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta and pour into the pot of sauce. Cover all pasta with sauce and serve immediately. You can decorate with a bit of parmesan if you like, for extra richness. I didn’t have any, so a picture of a pasta and the sauce is all I have.
PS.: This sauce keeps well in the fridge, but please keep it separately from your pre-cooked pasta.