You know those couples that initially have you thinking "Huh? How in the world did those two ever get together?," but then end up getting married and living happily ever after? This is the pasta equivalent of that situation: the ingredients in this Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower, Fried Capers and Dates are seemingly mismatched at first glance, but they end up forming the most perfect union of salty, sweet, creamy, and crisp flavors.
As you become a more confident cook, you will discover more and more delightful surprises in the kitchen, dishes that start as experiments but end up on the regular dinner rotation. This recipe is one such divine experiment- I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it so much, but it’s become a favorite! I am a sucker for roasted cauliflower and had been eyeing a similar recipe from Bon Appetite for a few months. I knew I wanted to try it out with a few tweaks, specifically the addition of fried capers and dates. If you have never had a fried caper, you are in for a treat! They are crisp and briny- a perfect compliment to the sticky, sweet dates and creamy roasted cauliflower. You may want to make a few extra because they are seriously addictive (make sure to get them as dry as possible before you fry to prevent any oil from splattering).
This isn’t a sauce that simmers on the stove, but rather one that comes together in a bowl with the assistance of reserved pasta water. Pasta water is truly magical. Not only will it season your dish (because you’ve liberally salted it before adding the noodles, of course), but it also helps to crate a creamy, glossy and emulsified sauce for the noodles. How much salt you may wonder? It depends on the brand. With Morton’s Kosher Salt I will add about 1-1/2 tablespoons per pound of pasta, but with Diamond Crystal (my brand of choice) I will add 2-3 tablesoons Since it’s not quite as “salty.” The Italians will tell you that your pasta water should taste like the ocean, and remember that most of that salt gets dumped out down the drain anyway so don’t worry about overdoing it.
I reserve half a cup of pasta water and add it little by little to the bowl as the ingredients get gently tossed together, sometimes using it all and other times just a bit. When your pasta is creamy and dreamy you’ll know it’s ready! I would suggest a short pasta shape in this recipe- whatever you prefer, even whole grain varieties are tasty. Penne, farfalle, fusilli, or just something similar (I used Sfoglini’s whole grain reginetti in the above image) would all make excellent choices. I hope you enjoy this quirky couple of a pasta dish! We have embraced it as a welcome favorite at our table.
prep time: ~10 min. cook time: ~45 min. serves: ~8
1 large head cauliflower, separated into florets
6 large, unpeeled garlic cloves
extra virgin olive oil
red pepper flakes
1/3 cup capers, drained and blotted dry with paper towels
16 oz short pasta shape of choice (penne, farfalle, cavatappi, fusilli, etc.)
3 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano plus extra for garnish
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1/2 cup chopped pitted medjool dates
Preheat the oven to 425° and place the cauliflower florets and garlic cloves on a rimmed sheet pan with 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes and ground black pepper to taste. Toss to combine and then roast in an even layer for about 30-35 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender and lightly browned and the garlic is soft. Set aside while you proceed with the next steps.
While the cauliflower roasts, add 3-4 tbsp of olive oil to a small skillet set over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, carefully add the capers to fry, stirring frequently so they don't burn. Let them sizzle about 2-3 minutes until brown and crisp, then remove them with a slotted spoon to drain on a paper towel lined plate.
Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add the room temperature butter, parmigiano cheese, lemon zest, 1/2 tsp salt and a few cranks of ground black pepper to the bottom of a large bowl. When they are cool enough to handle, squeeze the soft roasted garlic cloves into the butter mixture and discard the papers. Use the back of a fork to mash and mix the ingredients together. Add the warm cauliflower on top.
When the water is boiling, toss in your pasta to cook to al dente according to package directions. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water before straining the cooked pasta in a colander. Add the steamy pasta to the bowl with the butter mixture and the cauliflower and pour over some, not all, of the pasta water. Begin tossing the ingredients together gently to combine, adding a little more of the water as you go to make a sauce. When the pasta looks creamy and dreamy, toss in the parsley (reserve a bit for garnish), fried capers, almonds and dates and toss once more to combine. Check for seasoning. Serve the pasta hot in a big bowl garnished with more parsley and cheese and serve immediately.