We spun up a Dean Martin fest…

… last weekend while I dove into an interesting recipe I snagged off the web — Rigatoni with Roasted Cauliflower and Spicy Tomato Sauce from herbivoracious.com.

Actually, my Zite aggregator snared the recipe for me … finding out the recipe comes from a vegetarian cooking blog explains some of the recipe’s shortcomings — one of which I fixed … and one I did not.

As you read though the recipe, you’ll see that basically this is a spicy tomato cream alla vodka sauce embellished with roasted cauliflower and green olives. The nutty roasted cauliflower was very nice; but channeling Dean Martin … leave the olives in the martinis palie!

I love green olives and look for ways to cook them into view … tagines, paellas, osso bucco and countless “pantry pasta” and puttanesca variations.

But the sauce in this rigatoni recipe is more of a luscious creamy tomato alla vodka sauce and the picante flavor of the green olives “break” the sauce — on the palate if not actually in the dish. To be clear, the sauce does not actually break but the olives strike an incongruous chord against the pureed creamy tomato sauce consistency.

Pork please…

Which brings us to the other failing for this recipe — the udder lack of pork. Given he’s a vegetarian, I can’t fault Michael Natkin for this over-site, but as I’m not similarly afflicted with a meat aversion, I can’t even imagine this dish without pancetta.

The spicy, creamy tomato sauce achieves a beautiful unctuousness with the addition of some rendered pork fat. The lightly browned pancetta pieces balance perfectly with the sauce, the pasta and the cheese adding a third dimension to the flavor profile. You can leave out the pancetta if you really must go meatless — the dish will be good — but it’s just way better with the pancetta.

This dish is definitely worth a go; it’s easy to make and very good regardless of your meat persuasion. However, like Dean I think the olives are put to better use in the martinis!

Roasted Cauliflower Rigatoni alla Vodka...
Adapted from 'Rigatoni with Roasted Cauliflower and Spicy Tomato Sauce' recipe from herbivoracious.com
  • 1 head cauliflower, broken into bite-sized florets (reserve stems for another use)
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 small to medium onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced (scox change from thinly sliced)
  • 8 thin slices of pancetta (bacon thick slices) coarsely chopped
  • 2 14.5 ounce cans crushed tomatoes, preferably Muir Glen Fire-Roasted
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons vodka
  • ½ teaspoon chili flakes (more to taste … I will add a bit more next time)
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika (scox change from optional ½ ts)
  • small handful of basil leaves coarsely chopped
  • 1 pound rigatoni (I like the shorter rigatoni mezzi)
  • Ricotta salata cheese (or a young pecorino, or Grana Padano)
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Put a large, covered pot of well-salted water on to boil. Set serving bowls aside to warm.
  2. Toss the cauliflower with two tablespoons of the olive oil and a couple of pinches of salt. Roast in oven, tossing occasionally, until completely tender and browned in many spots, at least 20 minutes. Remove from oven and reserve.
  3. Meanwhile, place your largest skillet over medium heat. Add the remaining olive oil, and when it shimmers, add the onion and garlic and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until the onion is translucent. Transfer the contents of the skillet to a blender (but don’t clean the skillet). Add the pancetta to the skillet and cook -- stirring -- over medium heat to render the fat and begin browning.
  4. While cooking pancetta, add the tomatoes, cream, vodka, chili flakes, paprika, and ¼ teaspoon of salt to a blender. Blend at high speed until smooth. When pancetta is beginning to brown, add tomato-cream sauce to skillet, add half of the basil and bring to a simmer over very low heat. Be careful not to scorch the sauce but get it "up to heat". Taste and adjust seasoning and spice.
  5. Boil the rigatoni according to package directions. When it is almost al-dente (reserve 1 cup of the cooking water); drain the pasta and add to the heated sauce. Add the cauliflower, remaining basil and mix gently. Taste and make any final adjustments to the seasoning. If the sauce is too thick, add some of the reserved pasta water to adjust consistency.
  6. Divide the pasta among the serving bowls (or place in a large family-sized bowl). Add several shavings of cheese (or grind some over the pasta) and serve immediately with more cheese at the table.
This recipe makes a metric butt-load of pasta ... cutting it down proportionately should work.