Judging by the emphasis I seem to have put on being prudent with meat, you might think that I'm a real carnivore - not so, I don't eat things that know their mommies. I do consume seafood, although I limit that more and more as issues about fisheries collapse, concerns about farmed fish's effects on wild stocks, treatment of labor in shrimp exporting nations, and sheer rising prices affect my purchasing habits. However, my husband and daughter love their meat, so I spend a lot of time on recipes with meat in them. Today, however, is all about me - the vegetarian food lover - and the following recipe is one I have adapated over the years from one in Deborah Madison's Greens cookbook. And while I'm at a it, I have to incorporate a brief paean to Deborah Madison, who I consider a goddess like creature, and whose Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone would be the one cook book I would take with me to a desert island (along with Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice on the fiction side of things). Her ability to create simple recipes, where the flavors of the vegetables shine through, and great use of herbs enhances the dish, without lots of heavy, fatty sauces is just incredible.
That said, this particular recipe is adapted from the Greens cookbook, which was her first, and incorporated more cream, butter, etc. than some of her later efforts. But in the middle of the winter, this is amazing comfort food, and just tastes SOOOO good. The amount here will serve about 4, you can easily modify to make more. Don't bother with making less - it makes great leftovers, and you will want seconds :-) Quantities are approximate - this is a very forgiving recipe
Vegetarian Cauliflower "Carbonara"
1/3 pound or so of whole wheat pasta - flatter shapes like farfalle or fusilli hold the sauce, and seem to work better than spaghetti, penne rigate, etc.
2 cups or so (8-12 oz.) cauliflower
3 eggs beaten and at room temperature
2-3 oz grated smoked gouda - about 1-2 cups also at room temperature.
1/3 cup shredded parmesan
2TB butter, melted
2-3 TB extra virgin olive oil
1 good sized onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1/4 cup bread crumbs
2-3 TB chopped parsley (flat leaf is best)
Prep Note: The most important factor for success with this recipe is that the eggs and cheese are at room temp, and the cauliflower is warm as well so that the cheese sauce can form.
Put 1 TB olive oil in a saute pan, add the onion and garlic, and cook on low-medium heat for 10 minutes or so until soft and golden. Add the bread crumbs and cook a little longer to toast them slight. Throw in the chopped parsley, stir and set aside.
If you are using fresh cauliflower, break it up into small pieces, and steam in microwave with a little water for 5 minutes or so (until you get to your preferred tenderness). If you are using frozen Locavorious cauliflower, thaw partially, then toss with a little olive oil and roast in a 425 F oven until warm through, and slightly browned.
You want the cauliflower to be warm or hot when the pasta is ready, so time this around your pasta, or keep the cooked cauliflower warm.
Boil the pasta in a large sauce pan or pot to your preferred texture, and drain off the water. You don't need to drain it completely dry, it's ok to leave just a little behind. Put a few pieces of pasta in the eggs and stir, and repeat (you are getting eggs warmed up, just like when you add white sauce to the eggs when making a souffle. The goal is to bring the eggs closer to the temperature of the pasta,so that when you add them to the pasta they cook, but don't turn into scrambled eggs). Add the melted butter, 1-2 TB olive oile and eggs to the pasta and stir immediately, then add the shredded gouda and continue stirring. If your pasta is really hot, and you have the other ingredients at roughly room temp, you will get a creamy cheese sauce. Add the cauliflower and parmesan and stir again then add black pepper to taste. Put in a serving bowl and sprinkle the onion/parsley breadcrumb combination over it.
A note about the smoked gouda. You can get two kinds - one is actually smoked gouda, it comes in wedges just like regular gouda cheese does, and is the best (and most expensive) option. There is also a processed smoked gouda product available; it comes in slices off a round product of some kind, is perfectly adequate, though uninspiring, and costs about half as much as the real thing.