One of the most charming gifts I received this holiday was a package of Leftovers. Yes! In Italy, they are known as “Monnezzaglia.” Pastas in all manner of shape and flavor, odds and end bits, are gathered from different runs and packaged together. My Leftovers came from a pasta factory in Puglia.
These delicate cast-offs, tomato-orange butterflies, pinstriped bonnets, tight-petaled flowers, nautilus twists, made me think of the little treasures you collect, while strolling the beach after high tide.
In the package were spinach rigatoni, beet-based radiatori, multi-colored bow ties, wheels, flowers, tubes, striped ribbons—-so pretty and festive. I wanted to cook them immediately, and had to consider what I had in the kitchen to complement them. With all the colors and textures at hand, it needed to be something with a light touch. I didn’t want a thick sauce to mask their vibrancy.
Without question, I could simply boil them, toss them with some good olive oil and dust with a little sharp cheese, done! Simplicity is my preference—but these Monnezzaglia deserved a tetch more attention, and we deserved a more rounded meal.
Had there been seafood of some kind in the house, say, shrimp or crabmeat, I would have made a thin shellfish-based veloutÃ© to coat the pasta and incorporated the sweet fruits of the sea into the toss. As it was, I had a large head of cauliflower and a bundle of fat green onions from our Fresh Harvest Co-op.
Have you ever sliced cauliflower into slabs and roasted it? It’s quite tasty—the florets sweeten and mellow, and get caramel-brown, crispy edges. They make rather meaty, substantial fare, too. Roasting a few handfuls of chopped green onion along with them adds another welcome savory-sweet element.
I could imagine these vegetables, seasoned with just salt, red pepper flakes and a drizzle of green olive oil, as fine partners to the Monnezzaglia. Once, I had prepared them in similar fashion with some orzo–a different textural experience, but the visual white-on-white worked, and all the flavors were in easy harmony. The point being, if you don’t have the odd package of Leftovers, then pick out another fun shaped pasta in place.
The Monnezzaglia package directions say that all the varieties miraculously cook in the same time–about 12 minutes. I cooked them slightly less, maybe 10 minutes, and reserved a little salted pasta water, in case I needed more liquid when I added my roasted cauliflower.
But, it didn’t need it. The oil and “sweat” from the roasted vegetables were just right for coating the quirky and elegant shapes. A simple garnish of finely sliced green onion adds brightness and a few strands of shredded gruyere a little creamy gilding.
Quick to prepare, delightful to behold, and delicious to eat:
I’d love your suggestions on how to use my remaining Monnezzaglia….
ROASTED CAULIFLOWER-ONION PASTA
1 head Cauliflower, washed and sliced into 1/2″ slabs
1 medium Onion, sliced
2-4 Scallions, rough chopped
Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 lb. “Leftovers” or other Pasta
Shredded Gruyere (optional)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lay out slices of cauliflower on a baking sheet pan. Place sliced onion and scallions around the cauliflower. Drizzle with good olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt, and dust with red pepper flakes. Place in hot oven and allow to cook to a toasty-brown, about 15 minutes. Flip the cauliflower pieces over and allow to roast on the other side.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Toss in the pasta and cook according to package directions—in our case, about 11 minutes.
Drain and toss pasta well with roasted cauliflower, onions, and the oil in which they cooked. Garnish with finely sliced scallion and shredded gruyere. Serves 4.