Pasta with roasted cauliflower, kale, and sardines

This is the 'best pasta dish in the history of the world.'

The Rowdy Chowgirl
A whole wheat pasta with roasted cauliflower, kale, and sardines is rich with healthy flavors.

Just drop everything. Seriously. Whatever you are doing – drinking a cup of coffee at a cafe, sprawled out on the couch with your laptop, killing time at work on the Internet, just stop. Go check your cupboards and your refrigerator. Because you may very well have all of the ingredients you need. And if not, a quick trip to the grocery store is in order, so you can make the best pasta dish in the history of the world: pasta with roasted cauliflower, kale, and sardines.

Think I’m overselling it? The funny thing is that you wouldn’t be alone there. I fell madly in love with this pasta dish several weeks ago. I happily ate it for days, and then I made more. And like anyone who is newly in love, I was full of hyperbole and exclamation points. I felt that I had to tell everyone. “I made the best pasta ever!” I would say, to politely interested looks. “It has cauliflower, kale, and sardines in it!” At that point, inevitably, noses would start to wrinkle. “Sardines?” the skeptical reply would come. Some would even go so far as to say, “Yuck!”

Really! I can’t help but wonder how many of those nose-wrinklers have actually tried sardines, or whether they are just tuning in to long-buried memories of cartoon cats like Sylvester, eating a stinky can of fish.

Sardines, like other small oily fish, are not only good for you, but delicious. Good quality sardines packed in olive oil are not stinky, nor are they particularly salty like anchovies. And fresh sardines, especially just-caught ones grilled over wood and served sprinkled with coarse salt in an open air beach restaurant at sunset on the Costa del Sol in Southern Spain … well, I simply don’t have the words to do them justice.

Anyway, for those of you who like cauliflower, kale, and sardines separately, this dish will make you very happy. It is chock full of healthful ingredients, easy to make, keeps well for leftovers, and is, oh, so delicious. The combination of intense, caramelized flavors pack a rich, satisfying wallop.

You could make this with leftover steamed cauliflower. But if you’ve never tried roasted cauliflower, this is your chance. The flavor is completely transformed, and so much milder than steamed cauliflower, without that cruciferous edge. You might have to watch yourself, or you could end up accidentally eating up the entire head of cauliflower nibble by nibble as you prepare the rest of the pasta.

I do recommend using whole wheat or another whole grain pasta with this recipe, as the nutty flavor will enhance the earthiness of the other ingredients.

Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower, Kale, and Sardines

Serves 4

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 medium onions, halved and sliced
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 head cauliflower, roasted (see below) and broken into pieces
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 bunch kale, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces
8 ounces whole wheat spaghetti
1 tin oil-packed sardines, drained and broken into pieces
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Grated Parmesan

Prepare cauliflower and place in oven to roast. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to boil for pasta.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are caramelized, about 20 minutes.

Add pasta to boiling water and cook according to package instructions. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.

Add garlic and kale to the skillet with the onions. Add a splash of cooking water from the pasta, cover, and cook for about 5 minutes, or until kale is tender. Add pasta, cauliflower, sardines, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and enough pasta water to coat pasta and make a sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with grated Parmesan.

Roasted Cauliflower

1 head cauliflower
Olive Oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Wash head of cauliflower, then slice into 1/2-inch slices, like a loaf of bread. Toss slices (and crumbled bits) with generous amounts of olive oil and salt. Place on a large baking sheet in a single layer. Roast about 30 minutes, or until golden brown, turning once.

Christina Masters blogs at The Rowdy Chowgirl.

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