The best inspiration for dinner is found in the refrigerator. Penne with Roasted Cauliflower is an easy recipe, perfect for a weeknight dinner.
Refrigerator pasta is a common term in my household. When asked, “What’s for dinner?” and the response is refrigerator pasta, the only thing my family can expect is that they won’t know what’s for dinner. There are those days when I just don’t want an involved meal, we have too much of something that will get thrown out, or I do not want to cook. It happens – after a day of recipe testing, I’m not too jazzed about making dinner. Refrigerator pasta is the non-recipe dinner that I lean into.
Penne with Roasted Cauliflower, Bacon, and Tomatoes is the result of one of those days of marathon cooking. Faced with cooking dinner, a treasure hunt in the fridge will give me a little inspiration. Purchased on sale and languishing in the fridge, a head of cauliflower, gets my imagination going. Roasted in a good amount of olive oil, salt, and pepper, the cauliflower is the base of the flavor combination. From this point, I make decisions from what we have on hand that will complement the roasted cauliflower.
We always have pasta in the pantry as well as bacon in the freezer. Add some lightly caramelized onions, fragrant garlic, and blistered grape tomatoes. Throw in a few spices, herbs, and wine, and dinner is ready!
I am a big fan of roasting anything. The surface caramelization that occurs in roasting, is such a flavor booster. Cauliflower is particularly adaptable to roasting, becoming sweeter and nuttier. I like to add a good amount of olive oil to coat all the surfaces of the florets.
One of the benefits of roasting, you can finish the rest of the prep while the cauliflower is in the oven. We’re not talking a lot of prep. Cut up a few slices of bacon, some slivers of onion, and pieces of garlic. Get a large skillet heating over a medium flame. Fry the bacon and use the rendered fat to cook the onions until they are lightly caramelized. And see that residue on the bottom of the pan. That fond is gold. It will add a ton of flavor to the sauce.
Grape tomatoes are a great ingredient to have in the fridge. I use them for so many recipes – on pizza, in sauces, and of course in salads. Left to blister and pop in the skillet, they are the juicy component for the sauce. They can cook down until they have a jammy consistency.
Lastly, I add some white wine, just because I had it on hand. Flavor the sauce with minced rosemary and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes How much – that is up to you. Toss everything together. Embellish with some shredded Asiago cheese and roasted pine nuts. Done!
I have a confession – I can eat pasta for dinner almost every night. There are endless possibilities and combinations. Use your imagination and your refrigerator.
Now when my family hears we are having refrigerator pasta for dinner, there isn’t the expected cringe. They know it will be original and it will be full of flavor. Just like Penne with Roasted Cauliflower!
Penne with Roasted Cauliflower
- sheet pan
- large pot for pasta
- large skillet
- 1 head of cauliflower
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 8 slices bacon cut into pieces
- 1¼ cup onion 3/4 onion, slivered
- 1 tablespoon garlic thinly sliced, approximately 4 cloves
- 1½ pounds grape tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon rosemary minced
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1½ cups white wine
- 1 pound penne pasta
- 1 cup asiago cheese shredded
- 1/2 cup pine nuts roasted
- Preheat oven to 400°
- Trim and cut the head of cauliflower into florets. Toss with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper.
- Put the cauliflower on a sheet pan and place it in an oven. Roast for 20 minutes, then toss the cauliflower on the sheet pan to redistribute the pieces. Place back in the oven to continue roasting for another 15 minutes.
- Add a 1/2 cup of pine nuts to a sheet pan and roast for 3-4 minutes until golden brown. Set aside for later.
- Start a large pot of water boiling for the pasta.
- While the cauliflower is roasting, cut the 8 slices of bacon into pieces. Place in a large skillet over medium heat to render the bacon fat. Continue to cook the bacon until it is starting to crisp.
- While the bacon is frying, slice the onion into slivers or thin pieces. When the bacon is just about crispy, add the onion to the pan and combine. Continue to cook the onion in the bacon fat. Thinly slice the 4 garlic cloves.
- When the onion has started to slightly brown, add the garlic to the pan. Stir and continue cooking for about 3 minutes, until the garlic is fragrant.
- Add 1 ½ pounds of grape tomatoes to the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high. Add ½ teaspoon of kosher salt to the pan. Let the tomatoes start to blister and roast in the pan.
- Add 1 tablespoon of minced rosemary and 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes to the skillet.
- Add the penne to the pot of boiling water. Make sure to salt the water.
- When the tomatoes have split and blistered, add 1½ cups of white wine to the skillet. Let it come to a soft boil.
- Make sure to remove the cauliflower from the oven after it has roasted for a total of 30-35 minutes.
- Once the pasta is almost al dente, save a cup of pasta water, and drain the penne.
- Add the penne and the reserved pasta water to the skillet and toss with the vegetables and bacon. Let the tomatoes continue to break down. At this point shred the Asiago cheese.
- Finish the pasta with the shredded cheese and 1/2 cup of roasted pine nuts.
- Adjust seasoning to your liking.