You'll be surprised at just how satisfying this recipe's classic, clean flavors actually are. Conchiglie con Cavolfiore is southern Italian comfort food at its finest, healthiest, and cheapest. Don't be afraid of the anchovies! They really make this dish and even fish haters will find them undetectable. Enjoy! —Neurotic Kitchenista
Test Kitchen Notes
Neurotic Kitchenista nails it when she speaks to the satisfying nature of her recipe's clean, classic flavors. Unassuming on its face--it calls for just a head of cauliflower and a few pantry staples--NK's simple preparation masks something far more complex than the sum of its ingredients, yielding a dish that is at once benign and explosive. The subtle, nutty warmth of the cauliflower plays off the bold triumvirate of garlic, hot pepper, and anchovies, and bits of each ensconce themselves in the shells, creating little umami-bombs you detonate with every bite. Highly craveable! —Chris Hagan
2 to 3
shell pasta (size is your choice)
finely chopped Italian parsley
garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
good quality oil-packed anchovy fillets
good quality olive oil (about 2 tablespoons for cooking, plus more for drizzling)
Be sure to chop and prepare all ingredients before you start to cook. Remove the cauliflower stalk and separate the head into bite-sized florets: pick apart the cauliflower with your hands to help it along, and finally, give it a quick rough chop to achieve a uniform size so the cauliflower cooks evenly.
Boil water in a medium sauce pan with a good amount of salt. Add cauliflower florets and cook them several minutes until they are tender but not mushy. About 4 minutes should do it. The final texture is really up to you. I generally enjoy my veggies more al dente than the next guy. Once finished, drain the cauliflower through a colander set atop or inside a large heatproof bowl. You'll want to reserve all of your boiling liquid. Set cauliflower florets aside and return liquid to the sauce pan or larger pan to boil your pasta. Add extra water if needed. Return liquid to a boil and cook your pasta shells as directed on the box. Remember, al dente is always best!
While the pasta is cooking, set a large skillet over a medium-low flame. Pour in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the garlic, and the crushed red pepper. Take care not to burn the red pepper or garlic, and stir everything occasionally until the garlic becomes slightly golden. Next, add the anchovies. Allow them to melt into the oil. This should take 3 to 4 minutes. Feel free to stir a bit to help them along. Once the anchovies have dissolved, add the drained cauliflower florets into the skillet. Toss everything to combine. Lower the flame to the lowest possible setting while your pasta finishes cooking.
Once the pasta is ready, drain it in a colander, reserving about a 1/2 cup of pasta water. Pour drained pasta into the cauliflower skillet and toss. Add a couple of tablespoons of pasta water and turn the flame back up to medium. Cook a bit longer until the liquid boils away and thickens. Stir in parsley (and breadcrumbs, if using) and toss. Turn off the flame. Season carefully with salt (remember that anchovies are salty already) and liberally with black pepper. Drizzle with good quality olive oil. Lastly, feel free to add additional crushed red pepper if you like. Serve and enjoy!