Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cauliflower Pasta Salad

I actually am a fan of pasta salad. I put it that way because so many good cooks and chefs complain about pasta salads an awful lot. Luckily, these people seem to like food enough to try to improve upon that salad that they like so little, rather that ditching it entirely, or I’d never find new pasta salad recipes to try. Like this one, which is based on a recipe in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison.

I’ve had this one on my list of recipes to try for quite some time. Last week, we got our first cauliflower of the year in our CSA box, and I interpreted that as the perfect opportunity to make this recipe. The cauliflower and noodles are enhanced with capers, sun-dried tomatoes and a mustardy vinaigrette with plenty of lemon juice. Really, they had me at cauliflower and mustard, since I love tangy mustard with cabbage-y vegetables, but the lemon juice, sun-dried tomatoes and capers make this salad extra tangy and really delicious.

The cauliflower is blanched for this recipe, making it tender, but with a bit of bite, rather than hard and crunchy like raw cauliflower. That step really doesn’t take much extra time, since you’re boiling water for pasta anyway. Just boil the cauliflower before cooking the pasta and remove it with a slotted spoon.

Where others hate pasta salads, I hate the term “warm salad.” To me, a salad is cold, and something warm is something else. That being said, this salad really is best served a little warm. I don’t really know what else to call it but a salad, and it’s perfectly edible cold, but in the warmer salad, the mustard and lemon are more fragrant and the pasta has a nicer texture. I’m just going to have to live with that. The sacrifice is immense. Mouthwatering, but immense. Incidentally, if you’re one of those folks who can’t stand the sight of another pasta salad with tasteless dressing and pasty, cold noodles, you might want to give a less chilly pasta salad a try.

Pasta Salad with Cauliflower and Mustard Lemon Dressing
Based on a recipe in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison.

Salt for boiling water
8 ounces chopped cauliflower
4 ounces short pasta
1 ounce sun-dried tomatoes, sliced
¼ cup chopped green onion
¼ cup chopped parsley
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1 garlic clove
½ teaspoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon diced onion
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon sour cream
¼ teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a small handful of salt. Add the cauliflower and cook about 3 minutes or until tender but not mushy. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in a medium-sized bowl.

2. Cook the pasta in the boiling water to desired firmness. Drain. Add the pasta to the bowl with the cauliflower. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, green onion, parsley and capers.

3. Chop the garlic and sprinkle the ½ teaspoon salt over it. Chop a few more times, then crush the garlic and salt with the side of the knife against the cutting board. Continue until the garlic and salt form a paste. Place the garlic paste in a small bowl.

4. To the garlic paste, add the sherry vinegar, lemon juice, onion, Dijon mustard, sour cream and pepper. Whisk to combine. Add the olive oil and whisk until well-combined.

5. Pour the dressing over the cauliflower mixture and stir to coat well. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes about 6 servings.

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