Blame it on January...
I find motivation difficult this time of year and feel like I accomplish very little. January is the perfect time for projects; paint a room, organize, clean or plan the summer garden, right? But I don't. That may be because I tend to go full throttle during the holidays and I need an effortless January to even me out. I take a break from everything... even cooking and my beloved baking. But with time, that changes. This week I prepared several old favorites, but I also made, for the first time, this recipe for Baked Crusty Pasta Shells and Cauliflower that came across in an email from Food & Wine recently. It's fabulous on a cold, dark January night in Minnesota, and for those in my family that are eating less meat or none whatsoever. Anything made with salty capers, lemon zest and fresh ricotta is a winner, as far as I'm concerned. Yes... I'll be making Pasta Shells with Cauliflower again.
(NOTE) When purchasing the ingredients for this recipe, my cheesemonger suggested I cut back on the Fontina Val d'Aosta, which is pricey. I used half the amount that is shown in the original recipe below, and replaced the remaining 5 ounces with a container of pre-grated cheeses that included fontina in the mix. I had no complaint with doing that nor with the results. I loved this pasta.
Ina Garten | Food & Wine, November 2016, slightly adapted
• Kosher salt
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 3/4 pound medium pasta shells
• Extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 1/2 pounds cauliflower, cut into small florets (1 large head)
• 3 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh sage leaves (I substituted 2 tablespoons rubbed sage)
• 2 tablespoons capers, drained
• 1 tablespoon minced garlic
• 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
• 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
• 2 cups freshly grated Italian Fontina Val d'Aosta cheese (10 ounces with rind)... see NOTE above
• 1 cup (8 ounces) fresh ricotta
• 1/2 cup panko (Japanese bread flakes)
• 6 tablespoons freshly grated Italian Pecorino cheese
• 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1. Preheat oven to 400˚F.
2. Fill a large pot with water, add 1 tablespoon of salt and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, according to the instructions on package. Drain and pour into a very large bowl.
3. Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat, add half of the cauliflower in one layer and sauté for 5 to 6 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the florets are lightly browned and tender. Pour the cauliflower into the bowl with the pasta. Add 3 additional tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and add the remaining cauliflower. Cook until browned and tender; add to the bowl.
4. Add the sage, capers, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper to the bowl; stir gently to combine. Stir in the Fontina. Transfer half of the mixture to a 10 x 13 x 2-inch baking dish. Spoon rounded tablespoons of ricotta on the pasta and spoon the remaining pasta mixture on top. Combine the panko, Pecorino, parsley and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small bowl and sprinkle it evenly on top. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until browned and crusty on top. Serve hot.
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