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Tender cauliflower and creamy cheese dress a weeknight - easy pasta
Milk Street Bowtie Two-Cheese Pasta with Cauliflower

Two-Cheese Pasta with Cauliflower

Appears in May-June 2019

40 minutes

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Two-Cheese Pasta with Cauliflower

Free

We learned this recipe from home cook Antonella Scala in Naples. We loved how it uses the same water to both parcook the cauliflower and to cook the pasta. Parcooking means the cauliflower browns quickly when it is later added to the skillet. It also enriches the water, infusing the pasta with some of the vegetable's flavor. To contrast the cauliflower's subtle sweetness, we like equal amounts of salty, savory pecorino Romano cheese and aged provolone (also called provolone picante, or sharp provolone). If you can't find aged provolone, regular provolone is an acceptable, though milder, substitute. Short, twisty pasta shapes such as campanelle and cavatappi combine perfectly with the cauliflower florets. We boil the pasta for only 5 minutes (it will be well shy of al dente), then finish cooking it directly in the skillet with the cauliflower.

4

Servings

Tip

Don't forget to reserve 2½ cups of the cooking water before you drain the pasta. You'll need it for simmering the cauliflower and for creating the sauce. Also, don't add the grated cheeses all at once. Sprinkling each one over the surface of the pasta and stirring before sprinkling on more prevents the cheese from clumping.

40 minutes

Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 pound head cauliflower, halved and trimmed of leaves
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to serve
1 medium garlic clove, smashed and peeled
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more to serve
8 ounces short, curly pasta, such as campanelle, cavatappi or fusilli
1 1/2 ounces pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated (½ cup), plus more to serve
1 1/2 ounces aged provolone cheese, finely grated (½ cup), plus more to serve
Ingredients
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper

  • 2

    pound head cauliflower, halved and trimmed of leaves

  • 3

    tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to serve

  • 1

    medium garlic clove, smashed and peeled

  • ½

    teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more to serve

  • 8

    ounces short, curly pasta, such as campanelle, cavatappi or fusilli

  • ounces pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated (½ cup), plus more to serve

  • ounces aged provolone cheese, finely grated (½ cup), plus more to serve

Directions
  1. 01
    In a large pot, bring 4 quarts water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoons salt and the cauliflower halves and cook for 5 minutes; begin timing from the moment the cauliflower is added to the pot. Using tongs, transfer the cauliflower to a cutting board; reserve the pot and the water. When the cauliflower is cool enough to handle, chop the florets and stems into pieces slightly smaller than the pasta, discarding the thick, tough core. You should have about 4 cups. Return the water to a boil.
    See Demo
  2. 02
    In a nonstick 12-inch skillet over medium, cook the oil and garlic, stirring often, until the garlic is golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove and discard the garlic, then add the cauliflower, pepper flakes and ¼ teaspoon salt. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is well browned, 7 to 9 minutes.
    See Demo
  3. 03
    Meanwhile, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Reserve about 2½ cups cooking water, then drain. Add the pasta and ¼ teaspoon black pepper to the skillet with the cauliflower, then stir in 1 cup of the reserved cooking water. Cook over medium-high, stirring often, until the pasta is al dente, 3 to 5 minutes. If the pan becomes dry before the pasta is done, add another ¼ cup reserved cooking water and continue to cook.
    See Demo
  4. 04
    When the pasta is al dente, with the skillet still over medium-high, stir in another ¼ cup reserved cooking water. Sprinkle on the pecorino, then stir until the cheese is evenly distributed and melted. Sprinkle on the provolone, then stir until the pasta is glossy and lightly coated with melted cheese, then remove the pan from the heat. If the mixture looks sticky and dry, stir in additional cooking water a few tablespoons at a time until the proper consistency is reached. Taste and season with salt and black pepper. Serve drizzled with additional oil and additional cheese and pepper flakes.
    See Demo
Tip: Don't forget to reserve 2½ cups of the cooking water before you drain the pasta. You'll need it for simmering the cauliflower and for creating the sauce. Also, don't add the grated cheeses all at once. Sprinkling each one over the surface of the pasta and stirring before sprinkling on more prevents the cheese from clumping.
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Reviews
Cynthia R.

Thank you for your comment! Your comment is currently under moderation and will appear shortly.

LARESA B.

This was good, easy, quick, but I didn't get the creamy consistency I assume was intended. The cheese congealed somewhat. Was it too hot? Not wet enough? I added more water and there was water in the bottom of the pan, and I tossed it and tossed it to try and get the pasta water to blend with the cheese. I don't know, it was good but I'm not sure it was a success.

Kirsten R.

Made this for an outdoor lunch and it went over really well with our guests and our resident vegetarian and meat-eaters alike. I added extra garlic, because I love it.

Maureen O.

What cheeses can I substitute as I dislike pecorino and aged Gouda

Lynn C.

Hi Maureen -

Unfortunately, we haven't tested this with other cheeses so we can't offer any recommendations.

Best,
The Milk Street Team

Lee H.

I made this and really liked the taste and flavor. Excellent concept for using cauliflower, and very nice mix of cheeses. But I had to use the entire 1 1/2 cups of pasta water, and then some, to get the pasta to be edible, and by the time it reached that state, the cauliflower had pretty much disintegrated and the mixture looked sort of mushy. I think you need to get the pasta closer to al dente before you remove it from the water -- probably 7-8 minutes instead of 5. And I might try adding peas at the end, just to give the dish a splash of color and a bit more texture.

Tatiana R.

This was surprisingly good! I initially wanted to make it because the picture looked so good. I'm a big fan of the cavatappi pasta shape, so it was probably that. I bought all the ingredients, but then I procrastinated making the dish because I wasn't sure the cauliflower was going to go well with the pasta and because, honestly, I knew that aged provolone was a stinky cheese and I was afraid that I wouldn't like the flavor.

Well, after a few days of reminding me, my husband took the recipe and made it himself. And yeah, the provolone *was* stinky, but it didn't taste the way it smelled :) The cauliflower was delicious in the pasta, and we will definitely be making this again!

Michael V.

Super great recipe! Followed it exactly, and my wife and I agreed it's a keeper! Paired with a salad and some wine, wow!

Katherine K.

I am always amused at comments: Maureen doesn’t like aged Gouda, the recipe doesn’t call for it, Lee said it didn’t work with 1-1/2 cups of water, the recipe calls for 2-1/2. You at Milk Street must be blessed with good senses of humor.
That said, I would agree with Lee, it needed more water to cook the pasta once in the pan with the cauliflower. I didn’t add the pasta after 5 minutes but closer to 8 and it still was a bit more toothsome than we liked. It may have been the shape or the age of the pasta but I would suggest testing the pasta before draining it and adding to cauliflower. But the cheeses melted beautifully for a creamy sauce, it was a bit spicy which we enjoyed. The cauliflower was tender but with a yummy char. A keeper for certain!


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Two-Cheese Pasta with Cauliflower

Get Ready to Cook

4

Servings

40 minutes

Tip

Don't forget to reserve 2½ cups of the cooking water before you drain the pasta. You'll need it for simmering the cauliflower and for creating the sauce. Also, don't add the grated cheeses all at once. Sprinkling each one over the surface of the pasta and stirring before sprinkling on more prevents the cheese from clumping.

Ingredients
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper

  • 2

    pound head cauliflower, halved and trimmed of leaves

  • 3

    tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to serve

  • 1

    medium garlic clove, smashed and peeled

  • ½

    teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more to serve

  • 8

    ounces short, curly pasta, such as campanelle, cavatappi or fusilli

  • ounces pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated (½ cup), plus more to serve

  • ounces aged provolone cheese, finely grated (½ cup), plus more to serve

Step 1 of 4

Prepare cauliflower

2
tablespoon kosher salt
2
pound head cauliflower, halved and trimmed of leaves

In a large pot, bring 4 quarts water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoons salt and the cauliflower halves and cook for 5 minutes; begin timing from the moment the cauliflower is added to the pot. Using tongs, transfer the cauliflower to a cutting board; reserve the pot and the water.


When the cauliflower is cool enough to handle, chop the florets and stems into pieces slightly smaller than the pasta, discarding the thick, tough core. You should have about 4 cups. Return the water to a boil.

Step 2 of 4

Brown garlic and cauliflower

3
tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1
medium garlic clove, smashed and peeled
½
teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more to serve
½
teaspoon kosher salt

In a nonstick 12-inch skillet over medium, cook the oil and garlic, stirring often, until the garlic is golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove and discard the garlic, then add the cauliflower, pepper flakes and ¼ teaspoon salt. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is well browned, 7 to 9 minutes.

Step 3 of 4

Cook pasta

8
ounces short, curly pasta, such as campanelle, cavatappi or fusilli
¼
teaspoon ground black pepper

Meanwhile, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Reserve about 2½ cups cooking water, then drain. Add the pasta and ¼ teaspoon black pepper to the skillet with the cauliflower, then stir in 1 cup of the reserved cooking water.


Cook over medium-high, stirring often, until the pasta is al dente, 3 to 5 minutes. If the pan becomes dry before the pasta is done, add another ¼ cup reserved cooking water and continue to cook.

Step 4 of 4

Add cheese

ounces pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated (½ cup)
ounces aged provolone cheese, finely grated (½ cup)
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
½
red pepper flakes

When the pasta is al dente, with the skillet still over medium-high, stir in another ¼ cup reserved cooking water. Sprinkle on the pecorino, then stir until the cheese is evenly distributed and melted. Sprinkle on the provolone, then stir until the pasta is glossy and lightly coated with melted cheese, then remove the pan from the heat.


If the mixture looks sticky and dry, stir in additional cooking water a few tablespoons at a time until the proper consistency is reached. Taste and season with salt and black pepper. Serve drizzled with additional oil and additional cheese and pepper flakes.

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