Poor cauliflower. It’s the vanilla of the vegetable world, for sure. Dull, slightly sulfuric-smelling, usually boiled or mashed (which doesn’t improve matters). We’ll admit it—we used to be pretty unenthused about this colorless cruciferous.
Until this little gem of a recipe came along…
The mixture of the sausage and tomato with the al dente, slightly-roasted surface of the cauliflower is something special, and we’d wager this to win in a fight against any bowl of pasta. It certainly has the pasta beat nutritionally: the cauliflower is a dense source of potassium, Vitamin C, and other beneficial phytochemicals.
In any case, it’s so tasty, we think you might just add it to your regular cooking rotation. We actually get excited when we bring home a nice, big head of cauliflower now, because we know what’s coming. Cauliflower!!
A few notes…
1) This is a highly adaptable recipe. There are so many ingredients that if you forget something at the store, it’s still going to end up tasting great. The basics are the meat, some veggies, tomato and the cauliflower. The rest is just icing on the cake. If you don’t like anchovy paste, skip it. If you don’t have or can’t find anise seeds, fine. Don’t have the time or energy to zest the lemon, we get it! But we do encourage you to try to find the fresh fennel. It’s the one thing that really elevates this dish and makes it stand out. It’ll still be good without it, but it’s fun to try something different every now and again, right??
2) This is always better the second day… Yay, leftovers!
3) If you are running low on time, you can chop the cauliflower into florets, and it will cook much faster. (But you will lose out on the style points of serving it whole.)
4) If, from time to time, you have a hankering for some pasta, serve this over zucchini noodles (raw shredded zucchini), and you’ll get the same comfort food feeling!
5) It’s a great dish to make if you have mixed vegetarian/non-veg company. Just brown the meat in a separate pan and don’t put the anchovy paste in. You can serve the meat separate and let the meat eaters add meat into their dish!
Roasted Cauliflower in Italian Sausage and Fennel Bolognese
Active Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1.5-2 hours
Yields: 6 hearty meals (or 12-15 servings as a side dish)
- 1.5 lbs. bulk Italian sausage meat (spicy or mild)
- 1 large head of cauliflower, leaves removed
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 head of fennel, separate stems, bulb and fronds, chopped and divided
- 3 sticks of celery, chopped
- 3 medium carrots, chopped
- 1 large or 2 medium zucchini, chopped
- 1 24oz jar tomato puree
- 2 tablespoon tomato paste
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped, divided in half
- 1/2 bunch parsley, separate leaves and stalks, finely chopped
- 1/2 tablespoon anise seed
- 1/2 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes (or skip it if you don’t like spicy!)
- 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
- 1 bay leaf
- anchovy paste
- 1 lemon, zested, fruit reserved
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
You will need a large pot for this. 1 pot meal. We use a 7-quart Dutch oven.
- Preheat oven to 475.
- Add oil to Dutch oven over medium heat on the stove.
- When the oil is hot, add sausage meat and brown.
- Remove sausage from Dutch oven and set aside. Return Dutch oven to stove, adding more oil if needed, and increase to medium high heat. Add onions, stirring regularly to caramelize. When the onions are about halfway done, add chopped fennel bulb and 1/2 tablespoon of anise seed, and continue to stir frequently until the onions are done.
- Add celery, carrots and fennel stems. Continue to stir regularly until carrots have softened a bit. (Don’t cook them all the way through, as they still have plenty of cooking to do in the oven!)
- Remove pot from heat. Add tomato puree, tomato paste, zucchini, 1/2 of the chopped garlic, chopped parsley stalks, crushed red pepper, Italian seasoning, lemon zest and an inch or so of anchovy paste. Mix all ingredients well. Salt and pepper to taste. The sauce may seem quite thick at this stage, but while it’s in the oven, the vegetables will release a lot of moisture, making the consistency more like a marinara sauce.
- Press the whole cauliflower (stem side down) into the sauce. About half the cauliflower should be covered in sauce and half uncovered.
- Drizzle the cauliflower with olive oil and rub to coat evenly. Place a lid or foil over the pot, and put in the oven for about 30 minutes.
- Check cauliflower with a fork, and when it starts to become tender, remove the lid, and return pot to the oven for another 20-30 minutes. Remove when the cauliflower is completely tender and golden brown.
- You can finish it under a broiler to crisp the top a touch if you’d like. Squeeze lemon over the cauliflower and sprinkle remaining garlic over the sauce.
- Cut whole cauliflower into 6-8 sections like a pie. Ladle sauce and cauliflower into bowls. It’s quite an impressive looking dish, so impress the family or friends and plop the whole Dutch oven down on the dinner table and serve from there. Top with chopped parsley leaves and fennel fronds and enjoy!