Why make a fall-ish type pasta dish in the dead of August? Why, cause my kid asked me for it. And when one of my girls asks me for a dish filled with vegetables and nourishing things, I snap to attention! Mostly to avoid ‘the’ situation…you know the one, when you hear yourself sigh – that ‘ok, here goes nothing’ pitiable kind of sigh – right before calling the kids to the dinner table. You look down at the spinach, couscous and roasted chicken and wonder which one of the dishes will cause hysterics in which one of your children.
I take some comfort in not being alone. I’ve known all kinds of parents who have struggled with some aspect of feeding their children wholesome, nutritious food.
Well, let me take that back.
I’ve also known parents who feed their kids a diet based exclusively on plain goat yogurt, brown rice and veggies still dusted with nutrient-rich dirt from their local farming initiatives. They are also the ones offering whole-wheat vegan carrot cake at their kids’ birthday parties. If I offered such a cake, my girls would immediately file an emancipation petition, but somehow these people’s kids fall in line. In their homes, 3-year-olds snack on carrot sticks dipped in hummus faster than my own kid can pop a marshmallow in her mouth and swallow.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I have the highest regard for these parents’ nutritional choices. I follow many of them myself, to the extent that my complete and utter lack of discipline and love of bacon allows. But I am also of the camp, however hedonistic, that feels it’s okay to give a kid a good ol’ fashioned slice of chocolate cake, complete with decadent frosting just oozing with whipped butter and powdered sugar. At least every once in a while. And certainly on their birthday.
Having said that, and with this notable exception notwithstanding, many of us struggle to ensure our kids are eating well. Struggle is putting it lightly. At times it feels like we’re foot soldiers in a downright battle.
And so we fight. We fight the good fight because we unconditionally love these little irascible buggers and want the best for them. That’s why we sign them up for soccer camps, piano lessons and, if necessary, math tutors. That’s why we make sure they complete their homework and get enough sleep. Shoot, that’s why we give up our weekends to drive them to tournaments 1,000 miles and 3 states away.
We do all that and more for our children, and yet many of us would prefer to take our child to the dentist for a tooth extraction that to try to feed her sautéed spinach. Feeding them good food certainly shouldn’t conjure up visions of guerilla tactics, knocked-over dinner chairs and vegetable soup on the floor, but it often does. You’d think the job would be easier.
So when we find winning dishes, you know the ones, that get everyone excited about sitting down to dinner, why…we covet them like warm Krispy Kremes.
While I of course cannot guarantee that all kids (remember my mentioning the whole irascible little buggers bit?) will like my roasted cauliflower and mushroom pasta dish, I can attest that it has been kid-approved by many other equally irascible little buggers. It’s certainly worth a try. Who knows? You may even hear the following question: “Mamma, would you please make that cauliflower pasta dish again?’
Said no kid. Ever.
Or did she?
making roasted cauliflower pasta with mushrooms & pancetta
Preheat the oven to 450F°F.
Trim the outer leaves from the cauliflower, then cut the head in half and then into quarters. Separate the florets from the core center and cut any large florets in half to create a flat surface.
Add them to a large bowl along with 2 tablespoons of the oil and rub gently to coat with the oil. Place cut side down on a parchment paper–lined rimmed baking pan. Season with salt and pepper to taste and cover pan tightly with aluminum foil.
Place it in the oven and roast for 15 minutes.
As the cauliflower roasts, wipe the mushrooms clean, trim their stems, and quarter them. Add to the same bowl you used for the cauliflower, along with another 2 tablespoons oil, and mix well. Arrange on another parchment paper–lined rimmed baking sheet.
Season mushrooms with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with the thyme. Set aside.
Remove the pan with the cauliflower from the oven and carefully remove the foil (the released steam will be hot). Using a narrow spatula, carefully turn the cauliflower over and return to the oven, uncovered. Lower the temperature to 400F°. Add the mushroom tray to the oven. Roast for 15 minutes, at which point the mushrooms will have released some liquid. Remove that tray from the oven, carefully drain the liquid, and return the pan to the oven. Roast for another 25 minutes. The vegetables are done when they are soft and lightly browned on their edges. Remove from the oven. Now, I know this seems like a lot of roasting time, but I’ve made this dish several times and that’s the amount of time it consistently takes to soften the cauliflower completely AND to have it get this type of lovely and tasty caramelization…
Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Add 2 tablespoon of the oil and raise the heat to medium. Add the bacon and cook, stirring a few times, until it turns golden and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer it to a small bowl and set aside.
Return the same skillet to the stove, add the grated onion and a couple pinches of salt to the rendered bacon fat and stir. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the onion starts to gently sizzle. Adjust the heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it becomes very soft, about 15 minutes. Turn the heat up to medium-high, add the broth, cheese, and cream, and stir until the cheese is melted and the mixture is bubbly. Stir in the Worcestershire. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once it’s boiling, add salt (1 tablespoon for every 4 cups water) and stir. Add the pasta and stir for first minute to prevent any sticking. Cook following the package instructions, though you will drain the pasta 2 minutes prior to the directed cooking time. The pasta will be soft but still very firm. Right before draining the pasta, reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Return the now empty pot to the stove. Immediately turn the heat to high and add the remaining ½ tablespoon oil and the reserved pasta water. Quickly add the drained pasta and toss until the water is absorbed. Add the sauce and cook, mixing continuously, for 1 to 2 minutes.
Divide the pasta among four warmed bowls. Serve piping hot, topped with plenty of roasted vegetables, the crispy bacon bits, a generous crack of black pepper, and the parsley.