lidia's orecchiette with breadcrumbs, pancetta and cauliflower (Romanesco)

Lidia is the queen of Italian cuisine in the USA (and the queen of nice), a succesful immigrant who appreciated those who helped her become this icon of food TV and wrote the story of her life to acknowledge this help. Most of all she continues to show appreciation for her mom on her show, still mentally sharp at 100 in 2021, and always ready to sample her daughter's food and drink some wine. We met her for about 1 minute at her Philadelphia Free LIbrary book signing, and then a year later managed to eat a delightful meal at her Manhattan restaurant Felidia's. Which met our expectations.

Cauliflower seems to be in everything these days. Cauliflower rice, cauliflower pizza crust, whatever. We love it, especially in our armenian cinnamon rice dish.

We used Romanesco cauliflower for this recipe. bob has the urge to buy it every time we make a rare sighting of it in US grocery stores or farmer's markets, and would be happy always making our usual Romanesco pasta recipe with it, but Ani is less enthusiastic about this repetition. bob thought this would be a sneaky way to use the head in our fridge in a new and exciting way. Orecchiette are a favorite pasta shape, and we often use pancetta in pasta sauces, like the excellent bucatini all'amatriciana that ani has become expert at delivering. Breadcrumbs in pasta sauce is also unusual on this side of the Atlantic, but we have had some experience with this in the past.

The result was pleasing. Vegans can skip the pancetta. Lidia used cheese in the online video and we concur, but vegans are free to disagree. There are even vegan substitutions for parmigiano these days!


1 lb orecchiette
1 ½ c low sodium chicken or veggie broth
 2 T extra virgin olive oil, lus more for drizzling
4 oz pancetta, cut into small cubes
3 medium leeks, halved lengthwise and sliced (about 2 c)
½ medium cauliflower,stalks removed, florets cut into ½ in pieces (about 3 c)
Kosher salt
peperoncino (generous pinch)
¼ c chopped fresh Italian parsley
¼ c fine dry breadcrumbs, or as needed
optional: 1/2 c parmigiano or pecorino Romano, plus on each serving


  1. Get the pasta water boiling and a teapot for the broth water if you are using concentrate. If you have broth instead, heat it for addition to the pot.
  2. Cook the pasta al dente and drain.
  3. Meanwhile saute the pancetta in oil in a nonstick pot (that will hold the pasta later) a few minutes, say 4, then add the chopped leaks and saute another 3 minutes, then the cauliflower for another 4 minutes or so to soften it up.
  4. Season lightly with salt and peperoncino.
  5. Add the broth to the pot and bring to a boil and cook the veggies about 5 minutes, reducing the liquid by about half.
  6. When the sauce is done, transfer the cooked pasta to the pot with a "spider" sieve, and add the breadcrumbs and parsley and stir around to coat the pasta and simmer a moment.
  7. Adjust the consistency of the sauce by adding more breadcrumbs if it is still too soupy, or a little pasta water if it is too tight.
  8. Remove the pot from the heat, drizzle with a little more olive oil, add optional cheese, then toss and serve.


  1. Lidia Bastianich. A refugee from what is now Croatia not far from the Italian border near Trieste.
  2. Felidia's NYC.
  3. Lidia's Italy: orecchiette with breadcrumbs, pancetta and cauliflower.
  4. One of our favorite pasta dishes: Romanesco cauliflower pasta (broccoletti romani).
  5. Our super favorite family meal: cinnamon rice with cauliflower.
  6. Illustrations available.
orecchiette-cauliflower.htm: 16-nov-2021 [what, ME cook? © 1984 dr bob enterprises]