caulifredo pasta

For those of us lucky enough to be able to use a fitness center regularly in the hope of having a better present and future life, healthwise, we are often facing big screen TVs with captioned audio to help us endure the possible boredom. bob's pet peeve about our university student/faculty/staff fitness center is that nearly every screen is set to some professional sports channel of little redeeming value (in bob's eyes), but the one in the middle of the row of bikes and treadmills is tuned to ABC where depending on the time of day, bob can catch GMA, Kelly & Ryan, Rachael Ray, or General Hospital (my mother-in-law's influence) or on Saturday mornings Wildlife, Ocean Cruise or Travel shows. Another pet peeve has to do with the sex-based choices for exercise: most of the guys are over pumping iron in the hopes of becoming more attractive to females (not necessarily the case) while most of the ladies are on the aerobic machines which are good for their heart health and futures, though probably for the wrong reasons as well: body image conflicts.

We were big Rachael Ray fans in the early days of the Food Network late last century, before she exploded into an industry. Her motor mouth coupled to her down-to-earth demeaner has taken her places, and the fact that she is not a professional chef but a self-taught home cook like most of us means her recipes are not only doable, but often worth trying. Like this one which is an example of the veggie ingredient of the year 2018 meets healthy pasta combos: cauliflower. Cauliflower found its way into pasta noodle replacement, pizza crust, substitute rice, who knows what else. In this recipe it plays a dual role. It helps make a creamy Alfredo sauce healthy substitute (we all know Alfredo sauce is like liquid death) where it is not visible, and it makes a colorful crunchy topping when oven roasted with some good Middle Eastern spices. Zatar is a Lebanese favorite, and in our cupboard thanks to the mother-in-law, whose presence this year on the Martin Luther King holiday gave bob the excuse to immediately try this out. After catching it on the fitness center big screen.

So two key ingredients are missing: cauliflower and the right pasta. bob saddles up and rides out to russle up the goods. We decided not to use fettuccine since we had had that the evening before, but substitute them with our favorite shape this year, mezzi rigatoni. We've been regularly getting this in the Wegman's Italian Classics pasta line BUT bob finds them discontinued without warning? Drat! The half rigatoni allow the sauce to more easily coat the inside. With great disappointment we go with the full rigatoni, but later do an online search to discover our reliable Italian-American Carlino's Market has two different brands of the shape, so in the future, we will stock up in advance and not rely on Wegmans any more.

And the result? We found that with two full cauliflower heads, instead of putting one whole head into the sauce and the other in the oven for baking, we would use 2/3 for the sauce and the rest for the pretty baked florets of the topping. As for the taste, good. It is a different taste than you might expect from previous creamy sauces, but worth adjusting to for the sake of health. Perhaps this could be spiced up a bit with more garlic. We will try it again


2 heads cauliflower, cut into florets
extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), for drizzling
3 T Za'atar spice blend, also written simply zatar
Salt and white pepper or finely ground black pepper
1 c milk or low-fat milk
2 T butter
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
A little freshly grated nutmeg, to taste (1/16 to 1/8 t)
1 c grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
12-16 oz fettuccine (we used 16 oz = 1 lb rigatoni)


  1. Preheat oven to 425° F with a rack in the center.
  2. Clean and separate both cauliflower heads into florets.
  3. Begin steaming all the florets, but after 5 minutes or so, pull out about 2/3 of the florets to bake.
  4. Continue steaming the remaining 1/3 of the florets until tender, then transfer to a blender.
  5. Toss the florets chosen for baking with extra virgin olive oil and the zatar, salt and pepper. Spread around on a parchment paper covered cookie baking pan and bake about 25 minutes until tender and browned at the edges.
  6. Meanwhile, heat the milk, butter and crushed garlic, seasoning the mixture with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Pour into the blender and add the cheese.
  7. Puree until smooth. Taste to adjust the seasoning.
  8. Cook the pasta of choice to an al dente state and drain, reserving a cup of the pasta water.
  9. Toss the pasta with the sauce and add enough pasta water to make it creamy. This is a judgement call.
  10. Serve with optional freshly ground parmigiano at the table, topped first by some coloful baked florets.


  1. Rachael's Fettuccine Cauli-fredo with Roasted Za'atar Florets.  Rachel gives a recipe for Za'atar, but it is worth buying some if you are a serious home cook. Or married into a Middle Eastern family.
  2. A similar attempt to tame Alfredo sauce with zucchinis was our own creation: fettuccini zuffredo.
  3. Rachael put a head in the sauce and a head in the oven, but Italians don't like to overwhelm their pasta with sauce, so we pulled back a bit on the sauce input.
  4. Meanwhile the ladies at America's Test Kitchen have come up with a similarly conservative Fettuccine Alfredo recipe.
  5. Illustrations available.
caulifredopasta.htm: 24-jan-2019 [what, ME cook? © 1984 dr bob enterprises]