February 16, 2010

Sweet and spicy penne with cauliflower

I found this recipe on a really cute blog called Pink of Perfection. I love her tagline: "A thrifty girl's guide to the good life." I admit I have had to be much more thrifty than usual lately. So much so that my dinner parties have almost ceased to exist. But I got the idea from her to do a dinner for 8 people for $50. That's right. $50. Tips she shared and implemented were not going too heavy on the apps and asking guests to bring the beverages. And it worked! I threw a birthday dinner for my friend and 8 others (okay, so I went a little over with the guests) and spent around $60 total. I made spaghetti with meatballs, a big spinach salad and two kinds of cupcakes for dessert. People could not have been happier. So, thanks, Pink, for the inspiration and the tips on how to scale it down. After all, comfort food is always a winner and so is keeping things simple.

Thus my new favorite pasta dish, also from Pink of Perfection by way of How to Cook Everything. If you don't mind linking away (but not yet!) you'll find the recipe here.

I've made it twice and not only is it really economical (a $5 dish), it's really tasty too. There is nothing better in winter than the spicy zing of red chili flakes, garlic and oil, combined with mashed anchovies, cauliflower and golden raisins thrown in for a little sweetness. These flavors really do something to lift the mood in winter, while showcasing a great (and under-appreciated) winter vegetable like cauliflower. Recently I've been seeing this curious yellow cauliflower in the grocery store and I'm hoping it didn't get that way because of some weird genetic engineering. I like the way it adds color to an otherwise boring palette and the taste is somehow milder than regular cauliflower.

I've made this dish once with whole wheat pasta (originally called for in the recipe) and once with regular pasta. We preferred the regular pasta but the whole wheat made us feel more virtuous. I figure, with the amount of pasta that we eat in my house, it wouldn't hurt us every once in while to switch to a whole wheat version. But the only kind I like and buy is Barilla brand. In my limited experience with "healthy" pastas, I like theirs the best.

Feel free to kick up the dish even more and add more anchovies, more chili flakes and lots of fresh-grated parmigiano at the end. And, for another recipe using this combination of garlic, oil, chili and anchovies (and cauliflower too!), see my "orecchiette from Puglia" post. There's nothing like Southern Italian flavors to spice up the middle of winter.

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