Roast Cauliflower & Mushroom Carbonara

If vegetables were to be given sex appeal then humble cauliflower would surely be at the bottom of the list. If asparagus is the Johnny Depp of the veggie world then cauliflower is the Jeremy Clarkson (sorry Jeremy). No matter how organic it is, how healthy experts claim it to be or how you cook or prepare it, cauliflower will forever rank low in the sexy vegetable scale. However that doesn’t mean we can’t pimp it up a little and make it ACT sexy.

I reckon one of the problems with cauliflower is the school dinners association. Its unmistakable fusty cooking smell doesn’t help matters either. Didn’t everyone at one point visit the hatch where the dinner lady tried to coax us to eat the unidentifiable grey lumpy mess which they claimed was Cauliflower Cheese? Perhaps the other problem is that quite often we don’t really know what to do with cauliflower other than serve it up as a side dish or drenched in a cheese sauce. Even then it still retains its fusty smell & school dinners associations.

So it’s  no wonder that this recipe from Closet Cooking caught my eye while faffing around on Pinterest one day. It’s a cracking example of how to make boring ingredients into something sexy and fun and (more importantly) it turns the humble veg into something down right delicious. Granted it’s still not quite achieved the Johnny Depp sex appeal but it is a little less Clarkson & more Edward Norton. It’s got the goods but just not fully there.

Roast Cauliflower & Mushroom Carbonara

Carbonara has been done time and time again but this is a fantastic twist which eases us into Autumn cooking. I’ve done a little tinkering with this recipe but the basic premise is still the same. You are simply adding roasted vegetables to a basic pasta carbonara. Roasting the cauliflower however means it takes on a wholly different flavour to what we’re used to. It becomes sweeter, I suspect because it caramelises when cooking.

While I’m doing my best to convince you of the merits of cauliflower, if it isn’t working for you then please do try this recipe with other vegetables. You can stir in some baby spinach, a little shredded chicken or stick with the roasting theme & make some Mediterranean style roasted vegetables instead: tomato, courgette, pepper, garlic & red onion would all work. Equally this could work as a good Raviolli filling, click here for a recipe to experiment with.

This will serve 2 people.

Ingredients

Ingredients

Heat the oven to 200C.

Cut the cauliflower into bite-sized florets and chuck them into a baking dish with the unpeeled garlic cloves. Drizzle lightly with regular oil (Extra Virgin Oil should never be heated) and season with salt & pepper. Roast for 40 mins.

10 mins before the cauliflower is ready add the sliced mushrooms to the baking dish. When the veg is ready, discard the garlic cloves & keep the dish warm in the oven until ready to use.

Roasting the cauliflower makes it sweeter.
Roasting the cauliflower makes it sweeter.

Meanwhile

  • Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions
  • Fry the pancetta in a dry pan over a medium-low heat (so it doesn’t burn quickly).
  • Beat the egg with the parmesan cheese, creme fraiche (if using) and a little salt & pepper.
  • Toast the pine nuts

Before you drain the pasta, spoon 3tbsp of the pasta water into a cup & reserve. This water will be used as part of the sauce. It stops the pasta becoming dry and binds the sauce.

Now drain the pasta & mix all of the ingredients together, including the reserved water, off the heat. Mixing everything together off the heat will prevent the egg from curdling.

Eggy cheesy sauce, basil & pancetta. The holy trinity of carbonara
Eggy cheesy sauce, basil & pancetta. The holy trinity of carbonara

Sprinkle a few more pine nuts & basil leaves over the top before serving. A little sprinkling of parmesan cheese is of course, always a good idea.

Serve with pasta twists rather than spaghetti so the sauce & veg have something to stick to.
Serve with pasta twists rather than spaghetti so the sauce & veg have something to stick to.

 

Make it Vegan – You can make the sauce without eggs & cheese. Instead invest in good quality Extra Virgin Rapeseed Oil & add 5tbsp to the pasta in place of the sauce. E.V Rapeseed is thick & has a very buttery flavour so its perfect for pasta sauces. Click here for some good E.V. Rapeseed Oil brands.

If you are unconformable using raw eggs you can replace 1 egg with 4-5tbsp of E.V Rapeseed Oil but keep the parmesan if you like.

 

Make it Veggie – Just leave out the pancetta.

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