Orecchiette with Cauliflower, Toasted Pine Nuts and Romano Cheese

Orecchiette, or “little ears,” are the signature pasta of the Puglia region, on the heel of the Italian boot. They’re most often served in simple, flavorful dishes like the classic broccoli rabe and Italian sausage, or this vegetarian take with cauliflower, toasted pine nuts, and pecorino romano. It’s a great example of how the sparse, rustic cooking of Southern Italy brings out the most flavor from a few simple ingredients.

4 pounds Barilla Orecchiette
4 cups pine nuts
20 cups cauliflower florets
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 small yellow onions, chopped
salt and pepper
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
16 leaves fresh basil, chiffonade
1 1/3 cups grate pecorino romano
  1. Cook the Barilla pasta for half the time indicated on the package. Drain pasta and drizzle with some olive oil to prevent from sticking. Place pasta flat on sheet trays or hotel pans and cool in a blast chiller. Alternatively, cool it down in a walk-in cooler. Store in zip lock bags or sealed plastic container; refrigerate and use within several hours.
  2. Toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet until light brown. Set aside.
  3. Working in batches, blanch the cauliflower in boiling water for about 8 minutes, until it’s crisp-tender. Drain and shock in ice water. Drain and spread on a sheet tray to dry.

For each serving, to order:

  1. Heat 2 teaspoons oil and sweat some onions until translucent. Add a pinch of garlic and saute until tender. Add 3/4 cup cauliflower and raise the heat to high. Season with salt and pepper and saute until lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, reheat 1 1/3 cups pasta in simmering water. Drain and add it to the cauliflower pan with a few tablespoons of cooking water. Stir in a pinch each of parsley and basil, plus 2 tsp pine nuts. Toss and warm through.
  3. Plate and garnish with romano and a drizzle of olive oil.