Options galore with cauliflower, fresh tomato sauces
I felt like a frantic little squirrel as I scurried about the yard, snipping as many fresh herbs as I could. The nights had been getting cooler, and on this night, there was a frost advisory. The first frost was on its way.
My plan was to chop and freeze the herbs so I'd have them to flavor soups, stews and sauces during the winter months ahead. The cool evenings had stirred up my craving for pasta, so some of the parsley and basil, along with tomatoes from my window sill and freshly harvested garlic from the basket on my counter would make Fresh Tomato-Basil Sauce for dinner. Then I remembered the cauliflower in my refrigerator. I had been eyeing the purple and orange varieties of cauliflower at the farmers market. I love having options, but I decided to stay on the conservative side and came home with a big white head of the cruciferous vegetable.
One thing led to another, as often happens in my kitchen, and before I knew it, I had created two sauces for a pasta dinner. Fresh Tomato-Basil Sauce was sending notes of garlic and fresh basil through my kitchen. Cauliflower Sauce, a creation based on the clam chowder I make, was so creamy, slightly sweetened with fresh carrots and celery. I decided to make the pasta a one-dish meal and dumped a can of white kidney beans along with the cooked vegetables in a blender to whirl them into a smooth puree.
Sounds weird? Maybe. But the taste is wonderful. I know there are very few people who are indifferent about cauliflower - they either love it or hate it. But in this sauce, everyone will love it. Tiny florets of cauliflower, along with bits of onions, celery and carrots, are simmered to tenderness in a pot of milk, broth and a little cream. The cooked vegetables and a can of drained beans are pureed and then stirred back into the hot cooking liquid. Add a little Parmesan, and the result is a rich, velvety smooth sauce.
This one-dish meal is an extremely good source of several vitamins, including C and K. It's loaded with antioxidants and phytonutrients, all important for good health.
Each of the sauces can be used in a variety of ways. With the arrival of hunting season, you may want to spoon Cauliflower Sauce on a plate and top it with baked pheasant or venison sausage. Really, any kind of meat, even roasted salmon, pairs well with the sweet mellowness of Cauliflower Sauce. And it gives the plate an impressive-looking gourmet touch.
Fresh Tomato-Basil Sauce easily stands alone with pasta. Or you can toast baguette slices in the oven and top them with fresh mozzarella and some Fresh Tomato-Basil Sauce. Spread it on pizza dough, add it to a grilled cheese sandwich or spoon it over an omelet.
I've gathered herbs. A bag of chopped parsley and basil is in my freezer. I'm ready for the first frost. I'm ready for winter. I have everything I need for a warm, comforting dinner on a cold evening - Angel Hair Pasta with Two Sauces. Or maybe Angel Hair Pasta with one sauce. I love options.
Angel Hair Pasta with Two Sauces
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cups small cauliflower florets
1 clove garlic, peeled, smashed
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
1/2 cup finely chopped celery plus a few celery leaves
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Fresh Tomato-Basil Sauce:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 chubby cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon finely chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
1 pound ripe plum tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
8 ounces angel hair pasta, cooked al dente, drained
Freshly grated Parmesan, for serving
Salt and freshly ground black pepper for seasoning
Make the cauliflower sauce by bringing broth, milk and heavy cream to a boil in a medium saucepot. Add cauliflower, garlic, onion, carrot, celery and leaves. Cook at a gentle boil for 10 to 15 minutes, until vegetables are tender. Strain liquid into another saucepot. Transfer cooked vegetables to a blender. Add drained cannellini beans. Whirl the vegetables until the mixture is smooth. Stir the pureed vegetables into the strained liquid. Bring mixture to a simmer. Stir in 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Keep warm over lowest heat.
Prepare Fresh Tomato Sauce. Pour olive oil into a skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and sauté for just a minute. The garlic should not get brown. Add parsley and tomatoes. Heat through. Remove from heat. Stir in basil.
In a large bowl, mix together butter, 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. Add hot angel hair pasta. Toss to coat. Ladle cauliflower sauce onto 4 plates or pasta bowls. Place pasta on top of sauce. Make a hollow in the center of the pasta and fill with fresh tomato-basil sauce. Sprinkle with more freshly grated Parmesan. Makes 4 servings.
Tips from the cook
--Some of the pureed vegetables may stick to the inside of the blender after you've emptied it. Add a small amount of liquid (chicken broth, milk or heavy cream) to the blender and give it a whirl. You'll get every last bit of vegetable puree.
--Cannellini beans are white kidney beans.
--I like to heat the pasta bowls in a warm oven before serving this dish. It keeps the food hot much longer than when serving it in room temperature bowls.
--When you're out of fresh tomatoes from your garden, canned, drained, chopped tomatoes can be used for Fresh Tomato-Basil Sauce.