Wednesday, March 27

Cauliflower & Pancetta Shells

Few weeks go by without an easy pasta dish for dinner and this one is my latest favorite. Just a few ingredients create a hearty, healthy meal that feeds a crowd. The cauliflower gets cooked in a big skillet and then most of it gets pureed to a smooth sauce that looks and tastes deceptively creamy despite having no dairy. It reminds me of a healthier riff on the kid-favorite white cheddar shells. It's amazing how far a little pancetta goes in adding flavor, although you could omit it and keep it vegetarian (just make sure you season it well or add a little more Parmesan to make up for the lower salt content). The head of cauliflower that I got at my farmers market was enormous, so you might need two smaller heads to yield that same amount I used. Leftovers taste great too - just add a little liquid before reheating to keep it from drying out.

Cauliflower & Pancetta Shells:
  • Dice 1/3 lb. pancetta* and place in a large, hot skillet.
  • Cook pancetta for 5-8 minutes, or until most of the fat has rendered and the meat has browned and crisped.
  • Remove the pancetta and set aside, leaving the fat in the pan.
  • Add in 1 diced onion and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until softened.
  • Add in the diced florets from 1 very large** head of cauliflower, 1/2 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, salt, and pepper.
  • Cook for another 5-10 minutes, or until cauliflower is very tender.
  • Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, season generously with salt, and add 1 lb. of small pasta shells.
  • Cook pasta until nearly al dente, then drain.
  • Place 3/4 of the cauliflower and onion mixture in a blender with 1/2 c. chicken stock and puree until smooth.
  • Check for seasoning and add more stock as needed to thin the sauce.
  • Add the pasta to the skillet and stir in the puree. Toss to combine and add in 1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese.
  • To serve, divide pasta onto plates and sprinkle with pancetta.

Serves four - six
*Or bacon. Place the meat in the freezer for 10 minutes before chopping to make things easier.
**I had 4-5 c. of florets total. Make sure you dice them quite small.