This pasta with cauliflower and fried breadcrumbs features lemon, white wine, capers, and nutritional yeast. Light and satisfying, packed with flavor, takes just 35 minutes. (This article has been updated from its original 2018 version.)
Making a satisfying, rich-tasting cheeseless pasta is a challenge for any plant-based cook. And if you take tomatoes out of the question, that’s doubly true. But if you’ve been reading me long enough, you know I love a good vegan cooking conundrum, which is why I’m so proud to present to you this cauliflower pasta recipe.
Fun fact: this is a concept I came up with nearly 4 years ago, during our time in Syracuse. It was one of those clean-out-the-fridge situations where I had to salvage some near-death cauliflower. I sauteed it, added lemon, chili flakes, and capers, tossed the whole thing with hot pasta and olive oil, and crowned it with toasted Panko.
As is often the case, this dinnertime riff turned out surprisingly delicious: chewy pasta, slightly crunchy cauliflower, and crispy breadcrumbs, all brought together by lemony tanginess and a hint of heat.
The next day I made it again and promptly published it here. I love this dish as much today as I did nearly half a decade ago so needless to say, it was due for a makeover. Here’s my Lemony Pasta with Cauliflower and Breadcrumbs, 2.0!
What’s In This Cauliflower Pasta
This vegan pasta features sauteed cauliflower perfumed with garlic, chili flakes, and the signature funk of white wine. The cauli mixture gets tossed with hot pasta, olive oil, nutritional yeast (for that “cheesy” flavor), briny capers, lemon zest and juice, plus lots of parsley and black pepper. The pasta is then topped with crunchy, deeply-toasted Panko breadcrumbs.
Breadcrumbs on Pasta…?
I know what you’re thinking, this girl’s nuts. If you’ve never had this pairing before, it may seem a little cray-cray to garnish something starchy with something starchy. But trust me, ya’ll – this is a true restaurant pasta power move! The contrast of soft, chewy pasta and crunchy Panko is to-die-for.
Saute the Cauliflower: Start by chopping cauliflower into small bite-size bits. Put it in a skillet with a splash of water and cook until the water evaporates, just a few minutes – this step softens the cauli a little and eliminates the need to boil it first. Then add oil and saute until it’s golden brown. Next, add fresh garlic and chili flakes – I add these at the end to avoid burning them. Lastly, add the wine and simmer until it’s reduced, about 1 more minute.
Toast the Breadcrumbs: While the cauliflower’s happening, make the topping. In a separate small skillet, combine olive oil, Panko breadcrumbs, nutritional yeast, and a pinch of salt. Toast, stirring frequently to prevent burning, until the Panko is deeply golden, about 3 minutes.
Cook the Pasta: Boil the pasta in generously salted water until just shy of al dente – it will finish cooking in the skillet (see next step). Before draining, scoop out some of the starchy cooking water – you’ll use it in the sauce.
Finish the Pasta: Immediately after draining (the pasta has to be hot in order to absorb all the flavors), transfer the pasta to the skillet with the cauliflower and add nutritional yeast, capers, lemon zest and juice, parsley, lots of pepper, and the reserved pasta water. Continue cooking over high heat while continually stirring for about another minute, just to combine and warm everything through. Serve immediately, topped with the breadcrumbs.
Ingredients + Substitutions
- White Wine: Use a good-quality dry white wine – like sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, or chardonnay – that you’d enjoy drinking. Never use “cooking wine”. Wine adds a distinctive, fermented-tasting funk to this pasta. If you don’t drink alcohol and won’t have use for the rest of the bottle, skip this step and compensate with an extra squeeze of lemon juice if needed. (A teaspoon of Yondu would also do the trick!)
- Panko Breadcrumbs: These Japanese breadcrumbs are fluffier and crunchier than American-style, although either type can be used here. Panko is available in most supermarkets in the breadcrumb aisle.
- Nutritional Yeast: A “cheesy”-tasting vegan seasoning sold in most supermarkets. Look for Bragg or Bob’s Red Mill brands. It lasts forever in the pantry so don’t hesitate to buy it if it’s your first time!
- Pasta: As much as I recommend seeking out orecchiette (“little ears”) for this dish, any short pasta will work – gemelli, farfalle, shells, etc. For a healthier alternative, use lentil or chickpea pasta (like Banza).
- Capers: These tiny berries add salt and brininess. If you’re a caper-hater, sub with finely chopped olives.
More weeknight dinners this way…
- Soy-Glazed Crumbled Tempeh
- Massaman-ish Vegetable Curry
- Vegan Poke Bowl with Zucchini and Cucumber-Kimchi Salad
- Tofu “Fish” Tacos with Mushrooms and Guacamole
This pasta with cauliflower and fried breadcrumbs features lemon, white wine, capers, and nutritional yeast. Light and satisfying, packed with flavor, takes just 35 minutes.
- ½ large head of cauliflower, cut into small pieces (about 4 cups)
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 3 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/3 cup dry white wine, like sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio* (see note below)
- 1/3 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast, divided
- 8 ounces (half a box) short-cut pasta like orecchiette or shells
- 2 tablespoons minced parsley
- 2 tablespoons drained capers (about half a standard jar)*
- Zest of 1/2 lemon
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Bring a medium pot of water to a boil for the pasta.
- Place the cauliflower in a large skillet over medium heat. Add about 2 tablespoons of water and cook for a few minutes, until the water has evaporated.
- Add a tablespoon of olive oil and cook until the cauliflower is golden brown, about 5 minutes.
- Add 3 minced garlic cloves, 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of pepper, and cook for 30 seconds. Then add 1/3 cup wine and simmer for about a minute. Turn the heat off.
- Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat a tablespoon of oil over medium-low heat. Add 1/3 cup Panko, 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast, and a pinch of salt. Cook until deeply golden, stirring frequently, about 3 minutes.
- Cook the pasta in generously salted water according to package directions until just shy of al dente. Reserve ¼ cup of the starchy pasta water, then drain.
- Immediately transfer the hot pasta to the skillet with the cauliflower over high heat. Add the reserved pasta water, 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast, 1 tablespoon oil, about 2 tablespoons each capers and minced parsley, zest of 1/2 lemon plus 1 tablespoon juice, and a few grinds of black pepper. Stir to combine and allow to heat through for about 30 seconds. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.
- Divide among plates and top with the toasted Panko. Serve immediately.
- Use a good-quality dry white wine that you’d enjoy drinking – never use “cooking wine.” Wine adds a distinctive, fermented-tasting funk to this pasta. If you don’t drink alcohol, skip this step and compensate with an extra squeeze of lemon juice if needed. (A teaspoon of Yondu would also do the trick!)
- If you’re a caper-hater, use chopped olives instead.
- Serving Size: 1/5 of the recipe
- Calories: 380
- Fat: 13.4 g
- Carbohydrates: 56.7 g
- Fiber: 5.7 g
- Protein: 7.1 g
Keywords: cauliflower, pasta, lemon, vegan, breadcrumbs