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Aglio e olio, garlic and oil, is an Italian mother sauce that forms the foundation for a host of other sauces, many of which include vegetables. Marcella Hazan's rendition highlights the vegetable of the moment, cauliflower. Paired with anchovies that imbue the sauce with depth of flavor, fruity green olive oil and parsley for herbaceous freshness, and a lilting dash of red pepper, this sauce proves that simple ingredients can sing.
Serve 4 to 6
One 1 1/2-pound head cauliflower
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped fine
6 flat anchovy fillets, chopped or 1 tablespoon anchovy paste
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1-pound package penne or other macaroni
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Strip the cauliflower of all its leaves except for a few of the very tender inner ones. Rinse it in cold water, and cut it in two.
Bring 4 to 5 quarts water to a boil, then put in the cauliflower. Cook until tender, but compact - about 25 to 30 minutes. Test it with a fork to know when it is done. Drain and set aside.
Put the oil, garlic, and chopped anchovies or anchovy paste into a medium-size sauté pan. Turn on the heat to medium, and sauté until the garlic becomes colored a golden brown. Stir from time to time with a wooden spoon, mashing the anchovies with it.
Put in the boiled cauliflower, and break it up quickly with a fork, crumbling it into pieces no bigger than a peanut. Turn it thoroughly in the oil, mashing part of it to a pulp.
Add the red pepper and a liberal amount of salt. Turn up the heat, and cook for a few minutes more, stirring frequently. Then turn off the heat.
Bring 4 to 5 quarts water to a boil, add a liberal amount of salt, and as soon as the water returns to a boil, put in the pasta. When cooked al dente, tender but firm to the bite, drain it well and transfer it to a warm serving bowl.
Ver briefly reheat the cauliflower, and pour all the contents of the pan over the pasta. Toss thoroughly. Add the chopped parsley. Toss again, and serve at once. Recipe from More Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan, Knopf, 1978.
NOTE: This type of sauce is meant to be served without grated cheese, and that is how Marcella preferred it. But as Marcella said, "One may do as one pleases, and choose to have either pecorino or Parmesan cheese, depending upon whether one wants the sauce more or less sharp."