spicy calabrian cauliflower carbonara

A while back (a long, long while…) I was paying a visit to California wine country.  I was exploring the town of Yountville one afternoon, and wandered into a NapaStyle store. Right there in the middle of the place was Michael Chiarello himself, working the room like the smooth guy he is. He was wearing an immaculate lavender-colored oxford shirt, slim Italian-tailored trousers and his megawatt Food Network smile.

Feeling a tiny bit starstruck, I went over to say hello. I don’t remember what we chatted about, but I do remember him handing me a jar of hot chili pepper sauce, telling me it was from his family’s hometown in Calabria and that I couldn’t leave the store without it. Okay! He didn’t have to work that sales angle too hard. 

As a person with a serious attraction to harissa, I became hooked on those fiery Calabrian chilies like I knew I would. Is it in my blood? The majority of my ancestors come from the Campania, a region bordering Basilicata and Calabria, where chilies reign supreme. Could be a thing.

I’m nothing but a fan of cauliflower, especially paired with big flavors and spice. If you’re recovering from the nasty cold virus that hit over the holidays, like me, then you might appreciate the healing effect of some hot chilies to clear out the old sinuses. The lightly creamy carbonara-style sauce tempers the heat a bit here. Taste your chilies first to gauge your tolerance, as different brands seem to vary in heat power.

If you can’t locate Calabrian chilies, Asian-style chili sauce should do the trick.

spicy calabrian cauliflower carbonara

Yield: 3 - 4 servings

spicy calabrian cauliflower carbonara

If you're in the mood for a non-meatless meal, bake some prosciutto slices on a sheet pan in a 425 oven until crisp, about 5 minutes. Cool and break into pieces and toss with the sauce. Sprinkle coarse breadcrumbs over the spaghetti along with the cheese for extra savory crunch.


  • 1 head cauliflower, cored and sliced into small pieces
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 12 ounces dried spaghetti or linguine
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed with a garlic press
  • 1 - 2 tablespoons crushed Calabrian chilies (or to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons salt-packed capers, rinsed well
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley


  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Toss cauliflower on a large rimmed baking sheet with enough olive oil to coat; sprinkle with salt. Roast until tender and golden, 15 - 20 minutes (the cauliflower can be roasted 1 or 2 days ahead and refrigerated)
  3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons salt. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes.
  4. While the spaghetti cooks, crack the eggs into a mixing bowl large enough to hold the spaghetti; season with a pinch of salt and whisk the eggs. Stir in half the Parmesan cheese.
  5. Heat a 10 or 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Pour in enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the cauliflower and garlic, stirring. Cook a few minutes until fragrant (but don't let the garlic turn brown). Scoop in a tablespoon or so of the pasta cooking water then add the chilies, capers and butter. Cook another minute or two then turn off the heat.
  6. Just before draining the spaghetti, scoop out 1/4 cup of the cooking water and whisk it into the eggs. Add the drained spaghetti to the bowl and toss with tongs until the pasta is well coated and the sauce thickens a bit. Stir in the cauliflower mixture and parsley.
  7. Serve in bowls with more cheese over the top.


  1. This is a nice twist to my usual Sicilian style cauliflower and pasta w/ capers and raisins!
    I will try it this weekend! Thank you!

  2. I love this twist on carbonara, what great flavors!

  3. Nice! Both the story and the recipe. I had a chance to interview Michael Chiarello some years ago ~ actually quite awhile back; I think it was 2000. It was before I even knew I would become a writer of cookbooks, and before he had started his company NapaStyle. I was a senior writer at The Chronicle of Philanthropy, working on a story about philanthropy in the Napa Valley (I thought I was rather clever for thinking of a story idea that involved traveling to CA wine country). He was a nice guy and full of creative ideas. I’m not big on Food Network celebs but I have always liked Chiarello’s books; they are among my favorites. His recipes stay true to the spirit Italian tradition but always have an inspired twist or touch…like your cauliflower carborara recipe. I love cauliflower so I’ll be making this.

    • Thanks Domenica. I agree, Michael Chiarello really has a talent, not only for performing as a food celeb, but as a teacher. I like how he respects tradition, but brings his own personal style to his food. Good for you for being so clever 🙂 I could learn something from you, too!

      • I made this last night for dinner and we all loved it. I did not have the peperoncini a pezzi so I had to improvise ~ I used Vietnamese chili garlic sauce, of all things! I also chopped up a few anchovies in spicy sauce and tossed those in as well. Delicious. Thank you for the inspiration.

        • Anchovies! What a great addition. Now I’m hungry thinking about that combination…thank goodness for international chili sauces, too. Love your improv!

  4. We made this for dinner last night and it was so so tasty! Really great for vegetarians.


  1. […] love pasta so very […]

  2. […] season, but most likely pasta.  I’ve been smitten with my good friend Karen’s recipe lately: http://familystylefood.com/2015/01/spicy-calabrian-cauliflower-carbonara/ Della: I you were a knitting notion, what would you choose to be? Julie: Hmm, blocking wires. […]

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