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Linguine with Cauliflower Pesto

This speedy and flavoursome dish for linguine with cauliflower pesto is taken from Deb Perelman's Smitten Kitchen cookbook. It's a quick vegetarian pasta dish you'll want to make again and again.

From the book


When my son was about five weeks old, and my every second was devoted to his sweet little squeaks and ‘beh’s’, I realized I hadn’t had a real meal in, well, five weeks and that it was becoming hard not to gnaw off his tiny arm from hunger (note: no infants were harmed in the making of this recipe.) I came across a cauliflower recipe from a Gramery Tavern (New York restaurant) chef that triggered a round of all-consuming hunger so intense that I somehow managed to trick the newborn into letting me put him in the Bjorn long enough to pull it off. I still don’t know how I did it – roasting cauliflower rounds, toasting almonds, buttering breadcrumbs, plumping raisins – but it happened, and the results were so good that I stood in the kitchen and ate more than half of it (only dropping a couple of raisins on his fuzzy newborn head) before I realized that maybe I should have saved some to share with my husband.

Even if you aren’t practising the art of newborn kitchen negotiation, that recipe probably wasn’t intended for people who don’t have a lot of free time. So when I returned to it a year later I was intent on turning the lovely combination of flavours into something more accessible and closer to a meal that could feed us all. The results are alarmingly east to whip up. You don’t have to peel and chop garlic cloves and you don’t have to chop almonds. The cauliflower is raw and stays that way. The food processor, in stages, does everything for you and all you have to do is stir and toss your way to a fresh and bright autumn meal.

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1 small head or 1/2 large head cauliflower (about 450g), trimmed of leaves, cored and cut into large chunks
1 garlic cloves
Generous pinch of chilli flakes
70g almonds or pine nuts, toasted and cooled
50g chunk Romano or Parmesan cheese, plus a little more for passing
4 sun-dried tomatoes (dry variety; if oil-packed, be sure to drain them and chop them by hand separately, so the oil doesn't gum up the food-processor mixture, before you add them)
1 tbsp drained capers
few tbsp fresh parsley leaves
80ml olive oil
1/2 to 1 tsp sherry vinegar, to taste
450g linguine

Essential kit

A food processor is recommended.


Set a large pot of salted water to boil.

Prepare pesto – Pulse half the cauliflower in a food processor until it looks like mixed sizes of couscous. Transfer the cauliflower to a large bowl and repeat with the second batch adding it to the same bowl when you are finished. If your cauliflower looks like the perfect texture but one large chunk insists upon escaping the steel blade’s grasp, pick it out and pulse it separately.

Pulse the garlic, chilli flakes, almonds, cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, capers and parsley in a food processor until the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs. Transfer to the bowl with cauliflower, add the olive oil, the smaller amount of vinegar, and add a few pinches of salt and stir until combined. (If you do this step in the food processor it becomes an unseemly paste. Best to do it by hand.) Taste and adjust seasoning as needed – either adding more salt, pepper or remainder of vinegar. I start with about 1/2 teaspoon salt but often go up to nearly a full teaspoon.

Assemble dish – Once water is boiling, add the linguine and cook until it is al dente (cooked but with a tiny bite left)/ Reserve about 250ml of the cooking water, then drain the rest. Immediately toss the hot pasta with the cauliflower pesto and half of your reserved cooking water, until everything is nicely dispersed. If the pesto still feels too thick, loosen it with the remaining reserved cooking water. Divide among bowls and pass with additional Parmesan cheese.

Cooking notes: Want to skip the pasta? This is also incredible as a tapenade on olive-oil-brushed toasts.

To make this like an Italian grandmother, or without a food processor, simply chop everything by hand.


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From the book: The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

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