Earl Carter
Earl Carter
Earl Carter
Earl Carter Earl Carter
Earl Carter
Credit: Earl Carter

Orecchiette with cauliflower and anchovy

Andrew McConnell is the executive chef and co-owner of Cutler & Co and Cumulus Inc.

Credit: Earl Carter

A confession: I’ve never tried to make orecchiette, because it looks really difficult. There are various techniques to achieve the perfect, ear-like shape, with its smooth indentation and the cracked surface to hold sauce, but I won’t go into them here. The one I recommend involves the corner store.

The shape of the pasta is a perfect foil for sauces, but in this recipe I’ve gone for something a little bit drier. I don’t know if this dish has a particular Italian lineage. It came from coming home recently from a trip to Japan and having only a cauliflower and a tin of anchovies in the fridge.

Like a lot of good dishes, there is a degree of spontaneity and frugal desperation here. I wanted to use casarecce but I didn’t have any so I used a bag of orecchiette from the pantry. 

A dish that is beautiful is orecchiette tossed in a sauce of cime di rapa. The greens break down in the sauce and make a lovely coating. A pinch of chilli is often used to lift it. Broccoli could also be used in place of the rapini, which is sometimes called broccoli rabe, but I didn’t have that either, which is how I got to cauliflower.

With this recipe, I take my time and cut the cauliflower into even pieces to make sure they cook at the same time. I only use the florets – the stalk I will save for a soup later, or another recipe.

Wine pairing:

2014 Bisci Verdicchio di Matelica, Marche, Italy ($27) – Leanne Altmann, wine buyer, Supernormal and Meatsmith.


Serves 6

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 long red chilli, finely chopped 
  • 2 sliced shallots
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped 
  • 1 tbsp tiny capers
  • 600g orecchiette 
  • 6 anchovies 
  • 10 leaves red chicory or dandelion, roughly chopped 
  • 50g shaved parmesan 
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. 
  2. Meanwhile, cut the cauliflower into small even-sized florets about the size of your thumbnail. 
  3. Warm two tablespoons of the olive oil in a frypan, add the cauliflower and gently sauté over a moderate heat until golden. When the cauliflower is cooked, remove from the heat and set aside. 
  4. Using the same pan add another two tablespoons of olive oil along with the red chilli, shallots and garlic. Return the pan to the heat and gently cook until soft and aromatic. 
  5. Return the cauliflower to the pan along with the capers and continue to cook gently. 
  6. Meanwhile, cook the orecchiette and when al dente strain, reserving half a cup of the cooking liquid. Working quickly add the anchovies and dandelion to the pan. Cook for a moment to wilt the greens and dissolve the anchovy. Now add the cooked orecchiette and the retained cooking water. 
  7. Continue to cook and toss the pasta well until it is coated in the pan juices and all the ingredients are well incorporated. Taste and add salt if needed. 
  8. Transfer the finished pasta to serving dishes and finish with parmesan. 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 13, 2017 as "Cauliflower ears".

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Andrew McConnell is the executive chef and co-owner of Cutler & Co and Cumulus Inc.

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