Spaghetti with Cauliflower Pesto

6 Sep

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She’s a beaut, right?

Obviously I could not resist lugging home a head each of orange and purple cauliflower on top of my already heavy farmer’s market haul of melon, tomatoes, summer squash, eggs, and my newest obsession, maple cream!

I am such a sucker for roasted cauliflower. I love how it gets those golden-brown roasted marks, and packs a salty, slightly oily bite. But, it is important to try new things, and there is SO much happening with cauliflower these days.

I thought about making a purple cauliflower soup or a cauliflower gratin, but, desperate to hang on to the summer, I was not yet ready to dive into those cozier, creamier fall foods. After tossing around ideas of the ever-trendy cauliflower rice/couscous, cauliflower pizza crust, and cauliflower pasta sauce, I turned to my trusty food maven, Deb Perelman, who has a recipe in her cookbook for…CAULIFLOWER PESTO.

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Cauliflower pesto is made with raw cauliflower pulsed in a food processor (I took the Italian grandmother way/the hard route and hand-chopped/used my blender) and combined with a separate pulsed mix of brine-y, pesto-y ingredients: capers, garlic, Parmesan, pine nuts, herbs. Both mixtures get stirred together with some olive oil and acid such as lemon or vinegar, and combined with warm spaghetti (don’t forget to save the cooking water!) for a serious twist on traditional pesto pasta.

Deb uses sun-dried tomatoes in her pesto. I did not have any on-hand, so I threw in a few fresh tomatoes at the end for a little color and flavor.

I really had no idea what to expect with this recipe, but like every Smitten Kitchen recipe, it was a screaming success.

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Pale green plate= big NO for food photography. Ah well.

I served the pasta with sautéed radish greens and my old standby, roasted orange and purple cauliflower.  To drink: Bellwether hard cider in Liberty Spy flavor that I bought on a recent road trip to the Finger Lakes. Drank it out of a mug because who needs wine glasses (?!) and drank it on ice because I did not chill it long enough. Real life.

Spaghetti with Cauliflower Pesto

adapted from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook 

serves 6-8

*Note: Deb uses 4 sun-dried tomatoes of the dry variety in her pesto. I didn’t have any so I just added a few fresh tomatoes, chopped and warmed in a skillet. 

1 small head or 1/2 large head cauliflower (about 1 pound or 455 g), trimmed of leaves, cored, and cut into large chunks

1 clove garlic, chopped

small pinch red pepper flakes

1/2 cup (70 g) pine nuts (or almonds), toasted and cooled

2 oz (55 g) chunk Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon drained capers

2 tablespoons fresh basil (or parsley) leaves

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1-2 teaspoons lemon juice (or sherry vinegar)

salt and pepper

optional: small handful of fresh tomatoes, chopped

3/4-1 lb of spaghetti (or linguine)

Prepare the pesto: Pulse half the cauliflower in a food processor until it looks like mixed sizes of couscous. Transfer the cauliflower to a large bowl, and repeat with the second batch, adding it to the same bowl. If the cauliflower looks like the perfect texture but one large chunk escapes the blade’s grasp, pick it out and pulse it separately. By the end, you should have about 3 1/2 cups of fluffy cauliflower-couscous crumbs. *I don’t have a food processor, so I began chopping by hand, but then just decided to do multiple small batches in my blender. Works fine, just takes a little longer. 

Pulse the garlic, pepper flakes, nuts, cheese, capers, and herbs in the food processor until the mixture looks like course breadcrumbs. Transfer to the bowl with cauliflower. Stir in the olive oil, the lemon juice, and a few pinches of salt and pepper, and stir until combined (if you do this step in the food processor, it becomes an unseemly paste. Best to do it by hand). Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Assemble the dish: Bring a pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, add the pasta and cook until it is al dente. Reserve a cup of the cooking water, then drain the rest. Immediately toss the hot pasta with the cauliflower pesto (and fresh tomatoes, if using) and half of the reserved cooking water, until everything is nicely dispersed. If the pesto still feels too thick, loosen it with the remaining cooking water. Divide among bowls, garnish with extra chopped herbs, and serve with more Parmesan if you wish!

Cooking notes: Want to skip the pasta? Use the pesto as a tapenade on olive-oil brushed toasts.

Make ahead: the pesto can be prepared a few hours to a day in advance.


One Response to “Spaghetti with Cauliflower Pesto”


  1. Cauliflower “Rice” Sauté: Food For the Summer-Fall Transition | Figsinmybelly - September 25, 2014

    […] Cauliflower Pesto a few weeks ago turned me on to a whole world of cauliflower […]

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