Growing up, my family ate no red meat and no pork, but as I began eating on my own, I realized quickly that I wanted to try EVERYTHING. By the time I was in my late teens, the only thing I still wasn't eating was pork (ohhh the years I missed out on!). Then I studied abroad in Greece, and decided that if I was going to be the next Anthony Bourdain (a goal I'm still trying to reach), I would have to remove that last limitation: pork.
One of the pork dishes that has since peaked my interest (and my tastebuds!) is porchetta. I love slow cooked meat, and the spice blend that makes porchetta unique is simple ingredient-wise, but in terms of flavor, wonderfully complex: earthy and herbaceous, spicy and aromatic, warm and pungent.
Since most days, I'm looking for any excuse to eat pasta, I figured using this spice blend on cauliflower would be the perfect topping for Sfoglini's amazing bucatini, and boy was I right. Even better, I realized that the seasoning left in the pan after cooking the cauliflower would make a phenomenal pasta sauce.
While this is meant to be a vegetarian dish, a friend of mine made it recently and used bacon and said it was amazing, which is no surprise, considering the recipe is adapted from a pork dish in the first place! I'd recommend cooking the bacon in a clean pan, then removing it with a slotted spoon, and use the bacon fat as your cooking fat for the spices/cauliflower. Yum!
serves 4 - 6
1 ea medium cauliflower
1 Tbs fennel seeds
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp sage, finely minced
1 tsp garlic powder
1½ tsp kosher salt
⅓ c extra virgin olive oil
1 lb noodles (spagetti, bucatini, linguine, etc)
Preheat the oven to 375F.
Trim all green leaves off of the cauliflower, then trim the end of the stem, so that you can place the cauliflower flat on a cutting board, stem-side down. Using a sharp knife, cut the cauliflower in half, through the stem. Cut one cauliflower steak from each half: place the cauliflower half stem-side down, as it was before, then cut about ½ inch from the cut edge, to slice a cauliflower “steak.” Repeat with the other half, creating 2 steaks, and 2 round ends.
Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Cook the noodles to al dente, according to package instructions. Drain.
While the pasta cooks, prep the cauliflower. In a large skillet, combine all the spices. Toast over low heat until fragrant, just a couple of minutes. Pour in the olive oil, and raise the heat to medium. When the spices are just starting to sizzle, lay the cauliflower steaks in the oil.
Sear the cauliflower steaks for a few minutes, until golden, then flip and sear the other side. Remove the steaks carefully from the pan to a plate, and repeat the process with the round ends of the cauliflower. It might break apart into pieces, that’s okay. Once golden, Instead of removing them from the pan, turn the heat off, and nestle the steaks in the skillet as well. Place the skillet in the oven, for about 10 minutes, until cauliflower is tender.
Take the skillet out of the oven carefully. Gently scoop the cauliflower out of the pan onto a serving plate, then add the pasta into the skillet and toss to coat with the porchetta-spiced oil. Transfer to the serving plate with the cauliflower, and use a spatula to scrape every last drop of spiced oil over the pasta. Serve with parmesan cheese.