It’s a wonder what a bare refrigerator can produce for dinner. I’ll be honest – the contents of my fridge looked bleak the other day. It was 6 pm, dinner hour was fast approaching, and we were 4 hungry people in the mood for good food – something warm, filling and tasty. I know I write and think about food for most of my day, every day, but sometimes all of that writing and thinking doesn’t materialize as a meal on our dinner plate. This happens, and there we were.
Upon urgent inspection of the refrigerator, I found half a head of cauliflower and a forlorn chile pepper in dire need of rejuvenation, amongst the usual staples including a hunk of cheese and fixings for an oh-so-simple green salad. It would be a pasta night, I knew then, and with these ingredients I made a riff on a gremolata topping. Gremolata is a condiment that traditionally includes parsley, garlic and lemon, served over meat and fish. In this case, I took the basic ingredients of a gremolata and tossed them with breadcrumbs and Pecorino cheese before tumbling the whole lot with finely chopped cauliflower, minced chile and garlic. It was a hit – and so were the groceries I purchased the next day to refill our refrigerator.
Spaghetti with Chile Cauliflower Gremolata
Taste the fresh minced chile for heat, and feel free to adjust the amount of chili flakes to your taste. Serves 4.
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley leaves
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 pound spaghetti
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/2 head medium cauliflower, chopped in 1/4 inch pieces, about 2 cups
1 red jalapeno or small Fresno chile, stemmed and seeded, finely diced
Heat panko, oregano, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in a skillet over medium heat until breadcrumbs are golden, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl. When cool, stir in cheese, parsley and lemon zest. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add spaghetti and cook until al dente. Drain and transfer to a large bowl; toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil.
While the pasta is cooking, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and crushed red pepper. Saute until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add cauliflower. Saute until cauliflower begins to soften, 3 minutes. Add chile and saute until cauliflower is tender but not mushy, about 3 more minutes. Remove from heat and toss with the spaghetti. Add half of the breadcrumbs and toss again. Divide pasta among serving plates. Sprinkle remaining breadcrumbs over the pasta. Serve warm.