Inspiration by the foot: Spinach Fettuccine with Cauliflower and Bacon

by Terry B on December 9, 2009

Roasting cauliflower mellows its flavor, helping it blend deliciously with sautéed bacon, red bell pepper, onion, garlic and spinach pasta. Recipe below.


Inspiration can come from the least likely places. A photograph of cauliflower and sneakers, for instance.

I’d been thinking about doing something with pasta recently. Not actively thinking about it, mind you, but just setting it on simmer on a mental back burner. I figured sooner or later, something would spark an idea. This amusingly strange photo did.


Laura over at What I Like took it to illustrate just how hefty the cauliflower was that she’d found at the market, adding “and I suppose I should mention that I have quite big feet” to further impress us with its size. The wonderful, weird incongruity of the photo caught my attention, but the quality of the light held it, the play of light and shadow. Laura said of it, “It almost looks like an Old Master still life, doesn’t it?” Never mind that Rembrandt predated sneakers by a couple few centuries, she was right.

Suddenly I knew that I wanted to make a pasta with cauliflower, but wanted this kind of visual contrast, none of the blond on blond coloring that too many cauliflower pasta dishes have. Half a beat later, I decided spinach pasta would provide it.

Sticking with the visual appeal for the moment—we eat with our eyes as well as our mouths—I chose red bell pepper to create a nice visual pop against the green pasta [and good flavor too]. Onion and garlic are nearly always a given for me when it comes to pasta, so they were in. Next came bacon. Frazer’s Restaurant & Lounge, probably our favorite St. Louis restaurant, used to serve an amazing pasta with cauliflower, bacon and cream. And besides, I’d be hard pressed to name something bacon couldn’t make better.

And that was it. No herbs, no spices, unless you count salt and pepper. There are so many big flavors at play in this dish that you really don’t need anything more. I had considered adding Parmesan cheese, but when we tasted the finished dish, it was perfectly delicious without it.

Roasting the cauliflower. We’re big fans of cauliflower and aren’t sure why more people aren’t. Raw, steamed, sautéed, it’s all delicious—no need to hide it in cheese sauce for us. But roasted cauliflower is especially nice. The essential character is still there, but it’s beautifully mellowed. Some pasta recipes with cauliflower call for simply adding the raw cauliflower to the pasta water for the last few minutes of its cooking. For this recipe, do roast it. The delicacy and depth make the extra step worth it.

Spinach Fettuccine with Cauliflower and Bacon
Serves 4

1 medium head of cauliflower
olive oil
4 slices good quality bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, cored and chopped into largish strips
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

12 ounces spinach pasta [I used fettuccine]

Roast cauliflower. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Cut and break cauliflower into bite-sized florets. You should get 5 to 6 cups of raw cauliflower florets from the head—it will reduce in volume as it roasts. The 5 cups from my cauliflower became 3 cups when I roasted it. Arrange the florets in a single layer in a large glass baking dish or on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. Roast in the middle of the oven until tender and browned in spots, about 25 to 30 minutes. You can roast the cauliflower a day ahead if you want the pasta dish to come together more quickly the next night. Refrigerate covered.

Place the bacon pieces in a cold, large, high-sided nonstick skillet or sauté pan. Sauté over medium heat, stirring occasionally to cook on both sides, until just cooked through. You don’t want to turn it into crispy bacon bits—you want slightly chewy, meaty pieces of bacon. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate with a slotted spoon to drain. Pour accumulated bacon fat from the pan, but don’t wipe it clean.

Return the pan to the medium flame and add three tablespoons olive oil. Add the bell pepper and onion and cook until just tender, about 4 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning or browning—you just want to sweat the vegetables. Add roasted cauliflower to the pan and toss to combine. Cook for a minute or so to warm the cauliflower. Clear a space in the middle of the pan and add the garlic. Sauté until fragrant, about 45 seconds, then return bacon to the pan and toss to combine everything. Turn off the heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions until al denté. Drain pasta, reserving some of the cooking liquid. Add pasta to the vegetable mixture a bit at a time, tossing to combine. If pasta seems too dry, add a little of the cooking liquid—I added a little over 1/2 cup to mine.

Using tongs, divide pasta among 4 serving bowls. You’ll find you get mostly pasta at first. That’s a good thing. You can then spoon the vegetables and bacon over the pasta for a more pleasing visual presentation. Serve.


{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura December 9, 2009 at 6:13 pm

Glad you like the photo Terry, and that my old sneakers were good for at least a bit of inspiration! Recipe looks fantastic…I need to go out and buy another monstrous cauliflower this weekend.

Maytina December 9, 2009 at 8:34 pm

How much do I love that photo of a sneaker and a vegetable inspired you to make spinach fettuccine and involve bacon! Mmmmm. This is one that I’ll add to my ‘must try’ list!

dick December 10, 2009 at 2:28 am

One of my old neighbors used to fix a dish his grandmother taught him. Just like yours except that instead of roasting the cauliflower he sauteed it in the bacon fat and then added some pasta, a little pasta water, some cream and some garlic. It was delicious. Adding the red bell peppers to that would just finish it off great. The other trick to it was that when he started sauteeing the bacon he did it starting with a little olive oil. Great combination of flavors. Sometimes he would add some frozen peast to the mix and heat through just enough to finish off the peas. I think I just got my menu for this weekend.

dani December 10, 2009 at 5:00 am

This sounds SO good! And it looks perfect for this time of year. Thanks for another recipe to try, Terry.

Terry B December 10, 2009 at 4:31 pm

Thanks again for the photo, Laura! If your next “monstrous cauliflower” produces more than three or so cups of roasted cauliflower, the extra cauliflower can be added to soup or mashed potatoes or even just served as a side, maybe with a little butter. It’s so delicious.

Maytina—Yeah, when you think about food as much as Marion and I do, inspiration can come from just about anywhere.

Dick—Even as I was making this, I was thinking of all the variations I could do. Your old neighbor’s version sounds like a great one.

Thanks, Dani! It was good, even as leftovers the next day.

Melissa December 10, 2009 at 4:47 pm

I am a recent convert to cauliflower & at this point I only like it roasted. And I only like broccoli steamed! No cheese sauce for either. I’ll have to try this recipe. Looks nice & simple, clean flavors. Thanks.

Toni December 10, 2009 at 5:25 pm

I’m with you on the cauliflower, Terry. Recently I’ve been roasting everything – brussel sprouts, carrots, tomatoes — I’m even tempted to roast a persimmon that I’ve got here. And I love the fact that you cook with your eyes as well!

Shauna December 10, 2009 at 10:17 pm

I love roasted caulifleur so much that I use it for car trip food. Break it apart, brush it with olve oil and when it comes out you can also sprinkle some kosher salt on it- YUM!
This recipe sounds Wonderful!! I will have to make it soon!

Shandy December 11, 2009 at 1:54 am

Can you tell when adding cauliflower to mashed potatoes? I have always wondered.

Great pasta dish and I especially love your thought process for coming up with a list of ingredients =)

Terry B December 11, 2009 at 2:05 am

Hi, Melissa! Cauliflower is also one of my favorite vegetables to have raw with dip, so nice and crunchy.

Toni—Brussels sprouts are on my list to try very soon. Stay tuned.

Shauna—I don’t know about car trip food, but just as you described it, roasted cauliflower sounds like a good snack for around the house.

Shandy—If the cauliflower is already roasted, I would just add it to the potatoes as they’re boiling and almost done to warm it up. No additional cooking needed. Then you mash it along with the potatoes. Or as a substitute for mashed potatoes, Marion also makes puréed cauliflower that’s not only delicious, but quite healthy.

altadenahiker December 12, 2009 at 8:10 pm

On your rec, I roasted a cauliflower. And it’s ok — it’s not a pomme frite, it’s not even a Triscuit — but it’s ok and much less likely to kill you.

Terry B December 13, 2009 at 3:16 pm

Altadenahiker—Are you insinuating I oversold the joys of roasted cauliflower? Okay, well maybe a little. But it is good, though, isn’t it?

Elise December 16, 2009 at 6:06 am

Okay, this has three of my favorite food groups – roasted cauliflower, pasta, and bacon. And it’s gorgeous to boot!

Chaya December 20, 2009 at 6:09 pm

I think cauliflower needs a boost of some spice but I am not sure which ones. I love to cook it almost anyway and I love to mix it with other vegetables. You have an interesting recipe, one which I would like to try.

Terry B December 20, 2009 at 7:48 pm

Thanks, Elise! What are your other favorite food groups? I hope beer or wine is one of them.

You’re right, Chaya, cauliflower does play nicely with spices. That’s why it’s a favorite key ingredient for many curries. But here, the roasting does nice things to its flavor, and the bacon and red bell pepper boost the overall flavor of the dish. Hope you like the recipe!

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