raw + vegan cauliflower pesto


Since I've had entire posts dedicated to it, it's no secret that I thoroughly enjoy pesto. It could definitely be last-meal-on-earth dish of choice. I'm not kidding. I'm not too picky about the shape of the pasta. In fact, it could just be a pasta-free bowl of the traditional basil, pine nut, cheese combo and I might be fine with bread and water otherwise. What I'm doing behind bars demanding final meals, that's another story, of course.

Despite my devotion to the dish, little did I know (until quite recently, anyway) that pesto is more considered a technique than a combination of ingredients. Now I haven't gone too crazy with this revelation yet (though there was an almond pesto excursion over the summer, repeated several times over to top off zucchini pasta), I decided it was time to give it another go with a new round of flavors. Namely, cauliflower. We've been stocking a lot of cauliflower this winter. In soups or vegetable stews, roasted or over rice, it's definitely a vegetable I enjoy for it's predictable purposes. But with Deb Perelman's cookbook in hand (and a plethora of ear-marked recipes to refer to), I found myself inspired by the use of cauliflower as a pesto sauce, and a raw one at that. Curiouser and curiouser.

While I usually take to my pesto in the Italian grandmother style (even though I'm not sure which I'm further from, being Italian or grandmotherly) and hand-chop everything, I decided that this was the time I would whiz everything up in the handy food processor to save on time. Not that you need it: this recipe truly couldn't be any simpler or any quicker to complete. Why? Deb thought it up after she'd become a new mother.

Ahhh, and the crowd sighed and nodded with knowing looks.

Okay, I'm not a mom, either, but I totally understand what it means to be short on time and patience. That counts, right?

Well, before we go any further down that road, let's get to the recipe itself. For this one, you should plan to use your 10 or so minutes while the pasta is boiling to knock this sauce down for the count: easy. And if your almonds are already toasted/roasted, even faster.

For this recipe, you'll need:

About half a head of one large cauliflower, cut into florets
1 clove of garlic
5 sun-dried tomatoes (not in oil; if they are, drain and rinse)
1/2 cup almonds, dry toasted
1 tablespoon capers, drained
A good glug of olive oil (getting technical here)
A good squeeze or two of lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound pasta, in your shape of choice
Parmesan cheese (a grand option if you are, like me, not fully in the vegan way)

After you've washed and cut your cauliflower, transfer into your food processor in batches. Pulse until it's fully crumbled, resembling a course meal, or, you know, pesto. Transfer your broken down cauliflower into a bowl.

Rinse your food processor (or don't, since it's all going in the same place) and add your garlic, almonds, capers and sun-dried tomatoes. A note: Deb's original recipe called for 4 sun-dried tomatoes, which seemed low to me. I know they're intense in flavor, but it seemed like a small amount to counter the mountain of cauliflower staring me down. So I added a fifth. Looking back, however, I feel I may have even added a sixth or seventh the next time I make this for diner. Just a thought.

Anyhow, pulse these ingredients until chopped, about 1 minute. Scoop out into the bowl with the cauliflower. Top with olive oil and lemon juice and fold together. You can add a bit of salt and pepper, too; taste, then add more if needed.

By now your pasta should be good and ready. Before draining, save about 1 cup of your starchy pasta water to help your sauce adhere. Toss your pesto, pasta and 1/2 cup of your water together. If the sauce seems too thick, add a bit more water until you've reached your desired consistency. You can also save some of your pesto if you don't want to go with a full pound of pasta. It freezes great, and will be ready and waiting the next time you're not sure what to make for dinner. Or, as Deb suggests, spread it on some toast: correct, Deb. You are infinitely correct.