The unique way the pasta is cooked lends a special quality to this delicious dish. There are a few steps involved, but it’s very worth the effort.
3 slices bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large head cauliflower (3 pounds), cored and cut into 1-inch florets
1 onion, chopped fine
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
1 pound campanelle pasta (I like Rigatone)
5.5 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine (I skip this)
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
1 teaspoon lemon juice
BACON PANKO TOPPING: Cook bacon in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until crispy, 5 to 7 minutes. (I remove all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat). Add panko and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until panko is well browned, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer Panko mixture to bowl and set aside. Wipe out the skillet.
CAULIFLOWER: Heat 5 teaspoons oil in now-empty skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add cauliflower and 1 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is crisp-tender and browned in spots, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove pan from heat and cover to keep warm. (I’ve had mixed results cooking the cauliflower this way, probably because I don’t have a 12-inch skillet.I prefer to toss the cauliflower with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt and roast in a 450 degree oven until browned, stirring half way through, approximately 20 minutes.
PASTA: Heat remaining 1 teaspoon oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, thyme, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring frequently, until onion has softened, 4 to 7 minutes. Increase heat to high, add pasta, broth, and wine, and bring to simmer. Cook pasta, stirring frequently, until most of liquid is absorbed and pasta is al dente, 8 to 10 minutes.
Remove pot from heat; stir in parsley, lemon juice, and cauliflower; and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Sprinkle with bread crumb topping, or leave it in a bowl to serve separately.