Thursday, April 15, 2010

Is it Safe?

Cashews are a big favorite in this household. I add them to pasta dishes and curries and we eat them all alone as a snack pretty regularly. That’s why I knew that the idea of a sauce with a cashew butter base, which I came across in several respectable sources, was going to go over pretty well, as long as I didn’t mess it up too badly.

The most promising method involved pureeing cashew butter with coconut milk to make a creamy sauce that I thought I’d toss with pasta and some of the large leftover head of cauliflower hanging around the refrigerator waiting for another chance to make Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Olives. The bad news is that Harry hates coconut. The good news is that he will eat what he calls “safety coconut” which is usually a flavorful dish, such as a spicy curry, that contains a small amount of coconut milk. The even better news is that he trusts me to judge when something I make will be “safe” enough for him to eat.

And so, starting with raw cashews, I roasted, pureed (it was quite a pleasure to just sniff the cashews as I was grinding them in the food processor), seasoned and blended with a small amount of light coconut milk. I tasted, decided it was safe, added some more coconut milk, tasted again, and decided it was still safe. I kept the spice blend simple to save time (it was one of those busy nights when Harry stops home for dinner before teaching a night class), and sliced the cauliflower instead of separating it into florets. Not only did the cauliflower cook faster this way, but it was easier to eat tossed with the fettuccine.

Often, when a sauce for noodles is thick like this one, tradition demands that you set aside some of the pasta cooking water and use it to thin out the sauce while tossing it with the pasta. Unfortunately, I usually forget to save some of the water when dumping the cooked pasta into a colander in the sink. When you’re forgetful like me, plain water will do, or, in this case, a little more coconut milk might work as well. I’ve found, however, that with a sauce prepared in the food processor, there’s always a bit of goodness sticking to the sides and bottom of the processor bowl. So, I take a bit of warm water and swish it around to dissolve some of that sauce that would otherwise be wasted and use the resulting slurry to thin the sauce. Fewer good ingredients get washed down the drain and I’m rescued from my forgetfulness. (This works well with Pesto, also.)

This dish was delicious if somewhat sweet for a main dish, and quite rich. The cauliflower helped tame both of those characteristics, but I was very satisfied with a pretty small portion (perhaps about 1 cup). Harry liked it too, declaring it not only safe, but also very good (and I didn’t even have to apply dental torture to get that answer). He didn’t quite rave over it the way he does with Beef and Guinness Pot Pie or Spaghetti Pie or Pumpkin Pie (methinks the man likes pie), but he liked it and I liked it and that all works for me.

Pasta with Cauliflower and Cashew Sauce
You may be able to use unsalted roasted cashews and skip the roasting step, but I have not tried this myself.

Sliced cauliflower rather than florets cooks fast and works well with the pasta.

1 cup raw cashews (about 5 ounces)
1 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt, plus additional if needed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon honey
½ cup light coconut milk, well stirred, divided
8 ounces uncooked fettuccine
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
3 cups sliced cauliflower, cut into about 2-inch pieces (about ½ a large head)
¼ cup water, plus more as needed
cilantro leaves for garnish, optional

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Place the cashews on a baking sheet. Bake at 400 F about 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from the pan to cool.

2. Combine the salt, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, black pepper and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.

3. When the cashews are cool enough to handle, place them in the bowl of a food processor. Process until just beginning to form a coarse paste. (This could take a few minutes.) Add the honey and process until the cashew butter can be pressed together and resembles a dry peanut butter in texture.

Add about ½ of the spice mixture and ¼ cup coconut milk. Process until a smooth paste forms. Add the remaining ¼ cup coconut milk and process until the mixture is very smooth.

4. Meanwhile, cook the fettuccine in plenty of boiling salted water until done to your liking (I prefer al dente). Drain the pasta and set aside. Rinse or wipe any excess starch out of the pasta-cooking pot and return to the stove.

5. Pour the canola oil into the pot and heat over medium heat. Add the cauliflower and sauté until beginning to become tender and browning on the edges.

Add the remaining spice mixture. Saute about 30 seconds more. Add ¼ cup water. Cover and steam the cauliflower 3 minutes or until tender.

6. Remove the cover and reduce the heat to low. Add the pasta and cashew butter mixture. Stir or toss to combine well, adding more water, preferably mixed with the remains of the sauce sticking in the food processor, if the sauce is too thick. Taste for salt and add more if needed. Garnish with cilantro if desired.

Makes about 4 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Penne with Chicken Sausage, Olives and Walnut Sauce

No comments:

Post a Comment