This vegan cauliflower pasta dish features capers, lemon, and nutritional yeast, a plant-based super-ingredient touted for adding a “cheese-like” flavor to almost anything. Crunchy fried Panko is the star on top!
When we were around 19, my friend Michelle and I went out to dinner at Otto – Mario Batali’s famed pizzeria and wine bar a stone’s throw away from Washington Square Park. I don’t remember much about the dinner, but I’m assuming as two awkward teenagers, we probably looked very out of place at the sophisticated restaurant. One thing I can tell you for sure is that our Neapolitan-style pizza arrived with a tall and lusciously-dressed pile of peppery arugula on top – which I found utterly offensive.
“What is this greenery?”, we both thought. Wouldn’t pepperoni, garlic powder, or a dusting of Parm be a better fit?
As a 19-year-old, my idea of “pizza” was something large, round, covered in tomato sauce and chewy mozzarella, and maybe accessorized with squares of Buffalo chicken, or a thick layer of Penne alla Vodka (a specialty at my corner pizzeria in South Brooklyn). Needless to say, I brushed the greens off that pizza like they were yesterday’s news, and proceeded to eat the small, delicate slices with my friend.
At that time, my idea of good pasta was very similar: it had to be drowning in either marinara or Alfredo sauce, paired with some sort of chicken, and generously covered in cheese (the polar opposite of this vegan cauliflower pasta, basically).
I still enjoy chicken Parm as much as the next gal, but as a very sophisticated 27-year-old (I am so not wearing pajama pants as I write this. Nuh-uh, no way…), my perspective is quite different. When I crave pasta now, I want it al dente, with a sauce that can be described as restrained – with flecks of red pepper flakes, something briny like capers or olives, lots of garlic, definitely greens like escarole or chard, and tons of fresh herbs.
This vegan cauliflower pasta features lemon, capers, and nutritional yeast, a super-ingredient touted for adding a “cheese-like” flavor to almost anything. Crunchy fried Panko breadcrumbs are the crown that tie this whole outfit together. (Warning: If you haven’t tried these yet, please note they may be habit-forming).
As for the pasta, I decided to give Banza a go – it’s a gluten-free variety made out of chickpeas. Gluten is not a concern for me personally, but I was curious to try a low-glycemic option. I was surprised how well the pasta kept its shape after cooking, since my previous experiences with GF pasta ended in mushy messes.
Step #4 is crucial to the success of this – and almost any other – pan pasta sauce. Pasta water is the number one secret to restaurant-quality pasta. The hot starchy water emulsifies with the fat in the pan (be it bacon drippings, Parmesan, butter, or olive oil), and the silky mixture coats each piece of the vegan cauliflower pasta to give the illusion of a cream sauce. Yum.Print
This vegan cauliflower pasta dish features capers, lemon, and nutritional yeast, a super-ingredient touted for adding a “cheese-like” flavor to almost anything. Be sure to have all the ingredients prepped before you start boiling the pasta, since all the flavorings have to be added to the pan at the same time.
- 3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 3 medium garlic cloves, minced
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- ½ large head of cauliflower, cut into small pieces (about 4 cups)
- Sea salt
- ¼ cup whole wheat or gluten-free Panko breadcrumbs
- 8-ounce box of Banza shells, or other short-cut pasta of your choice
- 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 2 tablespoons drained capers
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (about ½ lemon)
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley or basil
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Bring a medium pot of water to a boil.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook for 30 seconds. Add the cauliflower, ¼ teaspoon of salt, and 2-3 tablespoons of water, cover tightly with a lid, and steam for about 2 minutes. Remove the lid, raise the heat to medium-high, and cook until the water evaporates and the cauliflower is slightly browned, stirring occasionally, 5-7 minutes. Turn the heat off and set aside.
- Heat 2 teaspoons of oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add the Panko and pinch of salt, stir to coat in oil, and toast until golden brown, stirring frequently, about 4 minutes. Set aside.
- Salt the boiling water and cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente. Reserve ¼ cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta. (You’ll have to rinse the pasta under warm water if using Banza).
- Transfer the pasta to the skillet with the cauliflower over medium heat. Add the reserved pasta water, nutritional yeast, capers, lemon zest and juice, parsley, pepper, and the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Stir to combine and allow to heat through for 1 minute. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.
- Divide among plates and top with the toasted Panko. Serve immediately.
- Serving Size: 1/5 of the recipe
- Calories: 396
- Fiber: 13.4 g
- Protein: 23.4 g