Supremely Savory, Slightly Spicy Meatless Cauliflower Ragù

SERVES: 4

You’ll notice this is a meatless ragù, save for a handful of anchovies. If you want to make it entirely vegetarian, you can skip the anchovies all together and you’ll still be in good hands. If not, I highly recommend keeping them in there, even for those of you who are squeamish about little fishes. I assure you the ragù will not taste “fishy” or even remotely like fish. The anchovies lend an incredible depth of flavor to the ragù, which helps to emulate the savoriness of ground meat without all the...meat. The bulk of the time you spend in this recipe will be whilst cooking down the cauliflower, which takes about 30 minutes. It’s time well spent. You are essentially driving off water as much water as you can while you cook the cauliflower, concentrating its flavor. Don’t rush it! Enjoy the process! Have a glass of wine, if you’re into that sorta thang, and really lean in.

Active Time: 1 Hr

Total Time: 1 hr

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Produce

  • 1 head of cauliflower (about 2 lb.)
  • 3 large shallots
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 1½ cups mint leaves
  • 1 lemon

Pantry

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 oil-packed anchovies (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons double concentrated tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon chopped Calabrian chilies or ¾ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 pound long strand pasta

Dairy

  • 2 oz. Parmesan, finely grated (about 1/2  cup), plus more for serving

1. Prep the sauce:

  • Remove leaves from 1 head of cauliflower and chop florets, stems and core into 1” pieces.
  • Thinly slice 3 large shallots lengthwise.
  • Thinly slice 8 garlic cloves.
  • Finely chop 1½ cups mint leaves
  • Finely chop 8 oil packed anchovies.
  • Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil.

2. Build the Ragu:

  • Heat ⅓ cup olive oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the cauliflower florets and stir to coat in oil.
  • Cook stirring once every 3-5 minutes or so, until cauliflower begins to turn brown. This will take quite some time; be patient, we are driving off all of the moisture in the cauliflower to concentrate its flavor and caramelize it. After about 15-20 minutes of cooking, add the shallots and anchovies and 2 more tablespoons olive oil; continue to cook, stirring occasionally until the cauliflower is broken up into smaller pieces and shallots are well browned, 8-15 minutes longer (For a total of 25-30 minutes). The cauliflower will ultimately break down quite a bit as it incorporates into the ragu. Don’t be afraid of really getting some good color on the cauliflower and shallots--they may start to look browned and burnt, but browning equals depth of flavor in this case. (Don’t burn it to a crisp, but, ya know, go for it). If ever the bottom of the pot looks super dry, you can always add a glug of olive oil to help keep things going.
  • Stir in the garlic and half of the chopped mint. Cook, stirring, until softened and fragrant, about 1 minute.
  • Add 3 tablespoons tomato paste, 1 tablespoon Calabrian chilies (or ¾ tsp red pepper flakes), and cook, stirring often, until the tomato paste sizzles and sticks to the bottom of the pot, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat until the pasta is finished cooking.

3. Finish:

  • Add 1 pound spaghetti to the boiling water, stirring it once or twice to ensure it doesn’t stick together, and cook according to package directions until al dente. Scoop out 2 cups pasta cooking liquid; set aside. Using tongs, transfer spaghetti to the Dutch oven.
  • Set the Dutch oven over medium heat, add 1 cup reserved pasta water and cook, tossing often and adding 2 ounces of grated parmesan little by little as you toss, until the pasta is well coated and saucy. Continue adding pasta cooking liquid, as needed, to a nice saucy glossy consistency.
  • Remove from heat, squeeze the juice of one lemon into the sauce and stir in the remaining chopped mint. Taste and add salt if needed. Divide spaghetti among pasta bowls, top with more parmesan, and a drizzle of olive oil.

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