I’m finally at a place in my life where I’ve made peace with not being a vegetarian. There are times when I wonder if I should eat meat at all, but my career as a recipe developer and food photographer has my hands tied. When food writer Jenny Rosenstrach declared that her family would only be eating meat on the weekends, I felt empowered and realized that maybe a label wasn’t really in order. The term “freegan” only sort of applies to me, given that I bought chicken gyoza today at Trader Joes and don’t feel a whole lot of remorse.
The truth is that I’m making strides to eat LESS meat. But is there still room for it in my diet? Sure. And when I really think on my intention in eating less meat, it’s that I’m moving more toward supporting less factory farms and more local, healthy, or sustainable choices. That being said, this recipe is completely vegetarian, but how great would this be with a little smoky bacon or grilled chicken if you’re more of a carnivore. There’s room for all of us.
The things I miss most when I’m cutting back on meat are usually chicken dishes, like my favorite Chicken Piccata. Normally, I’d dredge and pan fry a chicken breast in olive oil then add lemon juice, capers, and butter to make a rich sauce. Instead, I’m making dukkah roasted cauliflower piccata as a substitute. Dukkah is a spice blend of sesame, fennel, anise, coriander, kosher salt, and crushed almonds. It has that lovely fennel-licorice flavor, which is so amazing when roasting. I’ve never cooked with it before, so I thought this would be a perfect new ingredient to try for my 52 week challenge! It’s not hard to find. I found the blend at Trader Joe’s. You could certainly make your own spice blend, as well.
This Cauliflower Piccata has the usual culprits–butter, olive oil, capers, lemon juice, parsley, bread crumbs, and red pepper flakes. But I also halved an entire head of garlic and roasted it along with the cauliflower before squeezing the roasted morsels into the sauce. It’s a garlic lover’s dream. This pasta all comes together in a light sauce to coat the penne with a little bite from the briny capers. Try the full recipe below!
- 1 head of cauliflower, cut into 1 inch florets
- ½ cup plus 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 heaping tbsp dukkah (or 1 tsp fennel seeds)
- ¼ cup panko bread crumbs
- 1 head garlic, halved crosswise
- kosher salt to taste
- 1 lb penne pasta
- 1 tsp red chili flakes
- 2 tbsp butter
- 4 tbsp capers
- juice of half of a lemon
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
- ½ cup parmigiano reggiano
- Preheat the oven to 425 F. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
- On a large baking sheet, drizzle the cauliflower and the halved garlic, cut side up, with 2 tbsp of the olive oil. Toss the cauliflower to coat it. Sprinkle with the dukkah, panko bread crumbs, and a couple pinches of salt. Toss everything together again to coat. Bake for 25 minutes or until the cauliflower is lightly browned.
- Meanwhile, after the cauliflower has baked for 15 minutes, add the pasta to your boiling water. Let the pasta cook for 10 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water. Once the pasta is al dente, drain in a colander.
- While the pasta cooks, in a large deep skillet or dutch oven over medium heat, add your remaining ½ cup olive oil and red pepper flakes and a couple pinches of salt. Cook for 2 minutes until the red pepper is fragrant. Add the butter and turn down to low, cooking until the butter melts. Add the capers and stir, cooking for another minute. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice, stirring to combine.
- Once the pasta is cooked, add it directly to the pan with the olive oil, tossing to coat. Add the cauliflower mixture and parsley and toss again. Squeeze the cloves of garlic out of the head into the pasta They should be fairly soft and easy to remove. Add the parmigiano reggiano and stir the pasta to coat everything. Add a couple splashes of pasta water and toss again. Serve immediately with more parmigiano reggiano for topping.