Thursday, April 10, 2008

Penne with Caramelized Cauliflower

I try not to be puritanical. Really, I do. I mean, sure, clearly I’m more than a little focused on eating whole foods and obviously I would prefer to shelter my children from high-fructose corn syrup and artificial growth hormones and all of the other processed nonsense that is being packaged to look like food these days, but I'd rather not make a religion out of this.

I’m a realist, though. While I only buy organic milk for my son, I do not panic when we are at someone else’s house and they only have conventional milk. And though I’ve noticed that The Big Boy has his most spectacular temper tantrums after ingesting those bizarre overly-sweetened and brightly-colored children’s drinks, I just don’t have the heart to make him stand to the side and drink water when he is at a gathering in which all the other kids are sharing drinks-in-boxes. The kid is four years old. I don’t want to be one of those mothers, you know?

So I let some things slide every now and then. Against my better judgement, of course.

But see, then I went and read an article on that British study regarding the effects of artificial coloring on the behavior of children and suddenly I find myself considering buying a large bubble in which to raise my children.

Artificial coloring was barely even on my radar until I read this study. I wasn’t crazy about them to begin with, per se, and I have grumbled about it in the past when I have wondered why they were even necessary, but I wasn’t pulling a Michael Pollan about the whole thing either. I mean, I like beautiful colors as much as the next person. Part of the allure of beets and cherries, after all, is their rich and vibrant hue. Heck, my kitchen is red, my last office was painted orange, and nothing can bring a smile to my face quite as quickly as the sight of a giant, nearly-neon sunflower. ‘Course I mostly dress myself in black, but since black is actually created by the presence of all colors, then I feel I can kind of skate by with that one. But I don’t ONLY gravitate toward colorful foods. I adore cauliflower, after all. And my whole-wheat pasta addiction is nothing short of beige. Same goes for potatoes, mushrooms, capers, garbanzo beans and Vidalia onions. Not exactly a rainbow in there.

But why must any food find itself artificially colored? Do natural colors not occur in a large enough quantity? To be sure, after reading about that study, I did what any other paranoid consumer would do: I ripped open the pantry door and started scanning labels. And lo and behold, I came to the abrupt realization that I must have, in fact, become as puritanical as I was trying to avoid becoming, because with the exception of some leftover candy in The Big Boy’s Easter basket, there isn’t a single food item in our pantry or refrigerator with artificial colors. Even The Big Boy’s yogurt, which I had assumed would be at least slightly offensive, contains only organic carrot and black currant juice for color.

I’m not sure whether I should pat myself on the back or enter myself in some support program for people who were raised by hippies.

Since this isn't the best time of year to find fresh, naturally brightly-colored produce, I think it's only fitting that I share my favorite beige recipe for Penne with Caramelized Cauliflower. The flavor combinations are unusual in this dish, and I don't believe I'd ever had a pasta dish in which cauliflower had a starring role, but this has ended up becoming one of our new favorites. Even The Carnivore enjoys it, though I made sure not to mention it's Vegetarian Times provenance until after we'd eaten (I find the carnivorous types to be a little sensitive about liberal vegetarian publications


PENNE WITH CARAMELIZED CAULIFLOWER (adapted from the Nov/Dec 2007 issue of Vegetarian Times, serves 4 or so as an entree)

  • 4 Tbs olive oil, divided
  • 1 head cauliflower (about 1 lb), cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley
  • 1 Tbs lemon zest
  • 1 Tbs capers
  • 1 lb whole-wheat penne pasta
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • fresh grated Parmaigano-reggiano
  1. Toss cauliflower with 2 Tbs olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast in a single layer on a baking sheet at 475 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until browned.
  2. Pulse parsley, lemon zest and remaining 2 Tbs olive oil in food processor until chunky sauce is formed. Add capers, and pulse until capers are coarsely chopped.
  3. Cook penne in well-salted boiling water until al dente. Drain, and reserve 1/2 cup cooking water.
  4. Toss pasta with cauliflower, parsley sauce, and red pepper flakes, adding reserved cooking water if sauce is too thick.
  5. Top with grated Parm-reg.


Jen said...

I read each of the articles on food coloring and was completely amazed. Hope that the US food industry follows suit!

Samara said...

The article in the Independent made me want to make some Battenberg cake (with natural colorings, of course). Marzipan AND apricot preserves? I must try it.

Your pasta recipe looks tasty too- I love capers.

Amy said...

I'm looking forward to trying this recipe, and I just love the photo of your kitchen! The color is beautiful and I love your ceilings!