Friday, November 23, 2012

Boiled Cauliflower with Pasta and Leftover Meat

Cooking is really not as daunting as some of us think it is. The first step is simple and only requires you to walk a couple of steps and head to your kitchen. Once there, start with something basic like boiling water, even the best cooks do that. This is just one of the many things that I learned from Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace.

For the past two weeks, I have been devouring her book... Reading it slow, going back to previous pages, rereading everything until her cooking tips and recipes are etched in my memory, taking copious notes, and cooking everything that I thought was interesting (which is pretty much everything she talks about). Heck, she even makes boiled broccoli and cauliflower sound mouthwatering! So, I did those and was very pleased with the results.

Today I am going to share an incredibly simple recipe that took my breath away, literally, because I scarfed the food down so fast in the serving dish it was in... My competition was in the form of an adult male who just might eat everything the second I look away. On a more serious note, that meal was one of the best I have procured in our kitchen that left me and DFJ so impressed with its simplicity and goodness.

It all started with something so mundane as boiling water. In her book, Tamar Adler teaches us how to make a pot of boiling water go a long way. So, I did just that. Since I needed to cook some Brussels sprouts for Thanksgiving dinner, I boiled them first and reused the same water for the cauliflower and the pasta. The rules of thumb for making a pot of water go a long way are the following: #1: be generous with the salt, your water should taste like pleasant saltwater and #2: start boiling less starchy ingredients (like leafy greens) then use the same water to boil more starchy ingredients (like potatoes or pasta).

Remember the Whole Wheat Butternut Squash-Carrot Pasta that I made earlier this week? That was part of this dish. Even though I recommend you try making that or this, you can also just use store bought pasta, no biggie. Whatever you have on hand will work.

This dish also involved some great ingredients that would otherwise have been less than special when left on their own... leftover meat and discarded greens. We had some leftover ground beef from our dinner a few nights ago and some chunks of drumstick and thigh meat from a store-bought roasted chicken. I tore up the chicken chunks and heated them in the pan along with the ground beef AND then added discarded outer leaves from the Brussels sprouts and the leafy things that come with a head of cauliflower. So, if you have leftover cooked meat lying around, go ahead and chop 'em up then stir fry them with some wilting greens that you have in the fridge. You can then toss this meat and leafy green sauté in your pasta to make it special!

I love humble meals like this that satisfy your belly and your heart. It is really delicious too in a simple and honest way. It doesn't take too much time and effort but you end up with something really delicious and almost fancy! No one would ever know that you just saved leftover food from going into the compost or garbage disposal. *wink*

Boiled Cauliflower with Pasta and Leftover Meat
Inspired from Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace

head of cauliflower, chopped into batons (save the cauliflower leaves and thick stalks... you can add these in the leftover meat stir fry below)
olive oil
freshly ground black pepper

pasta (I used my own homemade Whole Wheat Butternut Squash-Carrot Pasta)
Parmesan cheese or Pecorino Romano

leftover cooked meat
leafy greens and or stalks that are at the end of their lives, chopped (the greens and stalks from your cauliflower and/or kale, spinach, arugula, Brussels sprouts, beet greens, what have you... don't be afraid to toss them in)

Fill a large pot a little over half full of water. Cover the pot and bring the water to a rolling boil over medium heat. When the water is boiling, add a tablespoon of salt (more or a little less). If you have some non-starchy vegetables (i.e. artichokes, leeks, string beans, cabbage, and so on) that you want to cook, drop them in the water and cook until done. In my case, I had some Brussels sprouts that I cooked for about 12 minutes. When they are done cooking, move the vegetables into a bowl or colander using a slotted spoon. Make sure the vegetables are not piled too high to allow them to cool down without softening too much. Remember, you want to save the water, so don't throw it out. If you don't have any vegetables to cook beforehand, then go ahead and cook the cauliflower until tender when pierced with a dinner knife. Remove the cauliflower using a slotted spoon. Place in two large serving dishes to make sure that there is only one layer of cooked cauliflower batons. This allows the cauliflower to cool down without turning into mush.

Do not turn the stove off just yet, now it is time to cook the pasta. Place the pasta in the water and cook until done. If using fresh, homemade pasta, you will know they are done when they float. For dry pasta, cook according to the package directions or until al dente.

Back to the cauliflower, drizzle each dish with some olive oil while still hot, sprinkle a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper, grate a generous amount of Parmesan cheese on top, and give everything a gentle toss while also slightly mashing the cauliflower. Set aside close to the stove to keep it warm.

While the pasta is still cooking, heat leftover meat in a bit of olive oil in a large pan. When the meat is hot, toss in the leafy greens and chopped stalks and cook until wilted or tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

When the pasta is done, use a slotted spoon to scoop them from the water into the cauliflower dishes. If drops of water fall, that's ok, that bit of hot water will help all ingredients come together. Add the sautéed meat and vegetables into the dish. Toss everything together until well-mixed. Add more Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper to taste.


Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration!

1 comment:

  1. Ooh, yum! This sounds great! I'll remember to try that with the water next time I cook, great tips :)


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