kitchen firsts: cauliflower pasta…with anchovies!

25 April, 2010 at 10:46 pm 1 comment

If you had asked me even a year ago, I probably would’ve told you I could foresee no circumstances in which I would be excited about eating an anchovy. It’s not that I wouldn’t eat one if I had to, but I figured I wasn’t missing anything by not going out of my way to eat them. I fully recognize that this is largely due to the whole pizza-related “ew, anything but anchovies!!” attitude that we all hear from birth, but nonetheless I was doing just fine in a life without anchovies.

However, this whole kitchen firsts thing has had me reconsidering my preconceived notions about foods, and I’ve been hearing a lot of people defending the underdog anchovy lately, so I was sort of starting to think that I might be willing to give them a try on a pizza or something. Then I saw this recipe for pasta with cauliflower that’s spiked with a little anchovy, and it sealed the deal on my readiness to try them– I love simple pasta dishes, and we are definitely cauliflower folk around here, so it seemed the perfect context to throw in an anchovy or five and see how it went.

So how did it go? Holy crap! As Elise says in her recipe, anchovies in small quantities seem to work some kind of umami magic, and the fact that I didn’t have to see the little fishies in my food (you chop them up) paired with the absence of fishy flavor made it totally easy for a first-timer like myself to wolf them down with gusto. It’s only 5 little anchovies that you throw in, and dude, it completely makes the difference between plain ol pasta with cauliflower and an absolutely amazing and savory pasta experience.

To warn you anchovy-fearers, there will be a moment when you first open the can that you will have to smell them, and there will be another moment when you first toss them in the pan that you will smell them again, and personally I temporarily freaked out at these two points. But, having made it to the delicious other side of those moments, I promise that the anchovies will chill waaaay out by the time the dish is finished. You might still be able to tell that they are in there (I could, Stephen couldn’t), but they will not be fishy and they won’t overwhelm the other flavors. If you already like anchovies, I bet you can imagine how well they will complement the cauliflower and pasta, and if you don’t, please do not fear the anchovy! Get some, make this dish, and be proud of yourself for conquering the fear of slimy little delicious fishies.

The original recipe for this pasta dish features a tomato-based sauce, but I wasn’t in the mood for another tomatoey pasta dish so I used a combination of white wine and broth to replace the can of whole peeled tomatoes and diluted tomato paste. I have to admit that without the tomatoes the effect is a little white-on-white, but we really loved the lighter flavors of the tomato-less sauce. If you are a lover of tomato sauces you can feel free to add a can of whole peeled tomatoes and 3 T of tomato paste dissolved in water (see original recipe) when it comes to the part where you add the wine and broth.  You could also adapt and use only wine, or only broth, or try using water in place of some of the broth or wine– although I haven’t tested all of those variables, I bet you would do just fine.

Cauliflower and Anchovy Pasta with Breadcrumbs
Adapted from
Serves 4

1/2 lb pasta
1 head cauliflower
2/3 cup panko crumbs
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
5 anchovies packed in oil, chopped
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken broth (or you could try just water or all wine if you want)
salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes, to taste (be a bit more careful with the flakes than usual, we were surprised at the distilled spiciness by the end)
olive oil
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, plus a little more for garnish
optional: chopped parsley, for garnish

To start, get all of your chopping prep done (onions, garlic, anchovies, and cauliflower), and toast your panko in a large skillet over medium heat until golden brown. Then remove from the pan and set aside.

Add another drizzle of olive oil to the skillet and saute your onions, garlic, and anchovies over medium heat until the onions are softened. When you put the anchovies on the heat, anchovy-skeptics might be thinking “abort, abort, it’s a fishy smell!”, but don’t worry, it will go away. Stir well to sort of mash the anchovies up into everything else. Remove the onion/garlic/anchovy mixture to a small bowl.

Set a large pot of water on the heat for your pasta, and when it comes to a boil get the pasta cooking while you work on the cauliflower/sauce part. For the cauliflower mixture, add another swirl of olive oil to your skillet and cook the cauliflower over medium high heat, stirring around until it starts to take on a little color. Then add wine, broth, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and the onion/garlic/anchovy mix back to the pan, let the mixture come to a bubble, and then reduce heat to simmer and let it go until the cauliflower is tender.

When your pasta is al dente, drain and return to the pot.  Spoon the cauliflower mixture out of its liquid and dump it in with the pasta.  Return the pan and juices to the heat and reduce– we started with about a cup of liquid leftover, and within five minutes we had reduced to 1/4 cup (you can reduce it a little less, just estimate).

Stir the reduced juices in with the cauliflower and pasta, and add half of your panko and the 1/2 cup of parmesan.  Stir it all up, then serve with additional panko and parmesan on top (you can also garnish with a little chopped parsley, if you like).


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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Elise  |  25 April, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    I’m so so so glad you made (and liked) the recipe! Isn’t amazing what just a little bit of anchovies can do? Love your photos too!


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