Sunday, October 3, 2010

Zuni Cafe Pasta with Spicy Broccoli & Cauliflower

Zuni Cafe is a San Francisco institution. They are well-known for their roast chicken for two over bread salad and I truly believe that it is life changing. The restaurant showcases California cuisine at its finest. Everything is local and seasonal, without a lot of fuss. The ingredients get to speak for themselves.

Even though the seasons aren't changing in San Diego, it must be fall somewhere. Cauliflower is coming into season and this recipe caught my eye. It is really great because you can adjust the ingredients to your liking. If you don't like anchovies, don't use them and throw in more capers and olives. If you don't have black olives, use green ones. Do whatever you like. Do not forget to taste the vegetable mixture before tossing with the pasta. I added a touch more of all the salty ingredients to pump up the flavor.

Pasta with Spicy Broccoli & Cauliflower
*Recipe courtesy of The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers

  • About 1 cup fresh bread crumbs. (These are optional, but I think you should use them because they add a nice crunch.)
  • About 3/4 cup mild tasting olive oil
  • About 12 ounces broccoli, trimmed, with a few inches of stem intact
  • About 12 ounces cauliflower, leaves removed and stem end trimmed
  • Salt
  • 1 generous tablespoon capers, rinsed, pressed dry between two towels, and slightly chopped
  • 1 pound penne, spaghetti, orcchiette, fusilli, or medium shells
  • 4-6 anchovy fillets chopped (Optional. I am an anchovy freak and added more anchovy and dumped the olive oil from the can into the vegetable mixture. Definitely not for everyone, but I loved it.)
  • 6 small garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • About 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly pounded in a mortar (I left this out.)
  • 4 to 8 pinches dried chili flakes
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped, flat-leaf parsley (Left this out too.)
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons coarsely chopped pitted black olives
  • Pecorino romano cheese for serving (I added this and it was perfect with it.)
If using bread crumbs, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Toss the bread crumbs with 2 teaspoons of olive oil, spread on a baking sheet, and bake for about 5 minutes, until golden. Keep the crumbs on the stove top until needed.

Slice the broccoli and cauliflower about 1/8 inch thick, and generally lengthwise. Most of the slices will break apart as you produce them, yielding a pile of smooth stem pieces, tiny green broccoli buds, loose cauliflower crumbs, and a few delicate slabs with stem and flower both. Don't worry if the slices are of uneven thickness; that will make for more textural variety.

Warm about 1/4 cup of the oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium heat. Add most of the sliced broccoli and cauliflower, conveniently leaving the smallest bits behind on the cutting board for the moment. (They'll burn if you add them too soon.) The oil should sizzle quietly. Swirl the pan, and leave the vegetables to cook until you see the edge bits browning, about 3 minutes. Salt very lightly and toss or stir and fold gently. Add a few more spoonfuls of oil and scrape the remaining bits of broccoli and cauliflower into the pan. Add the capers and swirl gently. Continue cooking over medium heat until the edges begin to brown, another few minutes, then give the pan another stir or toss. Do not stir too often, or you will get a homogeneous, steamy pile of vegetables instead of a crispy, chewy one. Most of the capers and vegetable crumbs will shrink into crispy confetti-like bits.

Meanwhile, drop the pasta in boiling water and cook al dente.

Once the mass of broccoli and cauliflower has shrunken by about one-third and is largely tender (picture above), reduce the heat, add another few spoonfuls of oil, and scatter the chopped anchovy, garlic, fennel, and chili all over. Give the vegetables a stir or toss to distribute. Cook for another few minutes, then add the parsley and olives. TASTE - every flavor should be clamoring for dominance. ADJUST AS NEEDED.

Toss with well-drained pasta and garnish with warm, toasted bread crumbs and grated pecorino romano cheese.

Complete your meal with a Chardonnay. I prefer a more acidic chard that is not buttery. If you like chards like this too and want to sound fancy, you can say that you like chardonnays with no malolactic fermentation. Or you could just say that you don't like buttery chards. Either way, any kind of chardonnay would be great with this dish.