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
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
- Heat oven to 425 degrees.
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Serve in bowls with more cheese over the top.