Rigatoni with Roasted Cauliflower and Spicy Tomato Sauce – Recipe

Rigatoni with Spicy Tomato Sauce
Rigatoni with Roasted Cauliflower and Spicy Tomato Sauce

I‘ve had rigatoni on the brain recently. KitchenAid was kind enough to send me this pasta-extruder attachment for review and I had in mind to use it to make saffron rigatoni and then serve it with cauliflower in several textures. Unfortunately, the day got away from me and I had to settle for a simpler dish with dried rigatoni, one way of cooking the cauliflower, and a spicy tomato sauce that takes just a few minutes to make. (Yes, the extruder review will be coming soon though – I’m sure looking forward to it!)

As it is, the dish I came up with is somewhat of a cross between two classics – Penne alla Vodka (which inspired the tomato-cream sauce spiked with a bit of vodka) and Pasta alla Norma, but with cauliflower instead of eggplant. The cauliflower is roasted until it is meltingly tender and full of browned flavor.

I like to use Muir Glen’s Fire Roasted crushed tomatoes for this dish and many others where a subtle smoky flavor is welcome. If you don’t have them (or if you do, but want even more smoke), try adding some smoked paprika to the sauce. You might also want to include some fresh basil leaves right at the end of cooking.

As always, I like to finish cooking the pasta with the sauce for the last minute or so. This helps the sauce really cling to the pasta instead of just hanging around in the same general neighborhood but never getting to know each other.

Rigatoni with Roasted Cauliflower and Spicy Tomato Sauce
Serves 4 

  • 1 head cauliflower, broken into bite-sized florets (reserve stems for another use or chop and include)
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • Two 14.5 ounce cans crushed tomatoes, preferably Muir Glen Fire-Roasted 
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons vodka
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
  • Optional: smoked paprika
  • 1 pound rigatoni
  • 1 cup pitted green olives – if they are a marinated variety, so much the better
  • Ricotta salata cheese (if you can’t find that, a young pecorino would be good – something semi-soft and salty)
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Put a large, covered pot of well-salted water on to boil. Set serving bowls aside to warm.
  2. Toss the cauliflower with two tablespoons of the olive oil and a couple of pinches of salt. Roast in oven, tossing occasionally, until completely tender and browned in many spots, at least 20 minutes. Remove from oven and reserve.
  3. Meanwhile, place your largest skillet over medium heat. Add the remaining olive oil, and when it shimmers, add the onion and garlic and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until the onion is translucent. Transfer the contents of the skillet to a blender (but don’t clean the skillet). Add the tomatoes, cream, vodka, chili flakes, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt to the blender. If using smoked paprika, add 1/2 teaspoon. Blend at high speed until perfectly smooth. Return to skillet and bring to a simmer over very low heat. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  4. Boil the rigatoni according to package directions. When it is almost al-dente, reserve 1 cup of the cooking water, drain and add to the sauce. Add the cauliflower and olives and mix gently. Taste and make any final adjustments to the seasoning – does it need more salt, chili flakes or smoked paprika? If the sauce is too thick, dilute it with some of the reserved pasta water.
  5. Divide the pasta among the serving bowls (or place in a large family-sized bowl). Add several thin shavings of ricotta salata and serve immediately.


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Posted by Michael Natkin on Monday, September 3rd, 2012 in Main Courses, Recipes.

9 Responses to “Rigatoni with Roasted Cauliflower and Spicy Tomato Sauce – Recipe”

  1. Reply
    September 3, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    Hi Michael, that pasta attachment is so cool, I am looking into buying one in addition to my pasta roller attachment, that is heavily used in my kitchen. I wish Kitchen Aid send me something to test too! 🙂
    Anyway, your rigatoni looks fantastic all spiced up in smoked paprika. Michael, forgive me my culinary illiteracy but what vodka does in sauces? I understand adding wine or liqueur to enhance the flavor. But vodka? Alcohol evaporates during heating, and what is left from vodka after?

    • Reply
      September 3, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

      Good question! The theory (and I haven’t done a side-by-side to test) is that alcohol can extract some flavor compounds from the other ingredients that aren’t easily dissolved in either fat or water, before evaporating itself. It would be well worth doing a controlled experiment to see if this has any validity.

      • Reply
        September 3, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

        Thanks Michael! I didn’t do side-by-side test either in cooking, but I tasted tomato sauce with vodka and a regular one, same brand, and I didn’t taste a difference. I am intrigued now… 🙂

  2. Reply
    September 3, 2012 at 3:59 pm #

    Hey, I will definitely be renovating this recipe… love the inspiration. It’s my understanding that alcohol does not completely cook off, so people allergic to alcohol, or people who are sensitive to it (i.e. alcoholics) should avoid cooking with it at all. I definitely can taste the flavor of the vodka in vodka sauce. Plus, I love saying Wodka. And, Mockba.

  3. Reply
    September 6, 2012 at 5:10 am #

    I love rigatoni and I learned making it from an Italian friend of mine. We add prawns into the dish but I like your idea better of using veggies as substitute.

  4. Reply
    April 8, 2013 at 11:16 pm #

    Had to comment on this one! I’ve made this every other week since I discovered your website a few months back. We love it at my house, I like that I can make it quickly and its so tasty, the taste of the roasted cauliflower and the salty green olives…. YUM. Thanks for the great recipe, its given me the courage to try some of your other recipes that I would have never thought to try!

    • Reply
      April 9, 2013 at 5:37 am #

      That is so nice to hear, Monica!

  5. Reply
    July 25, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

    Your book and website are becoming my “go to” when I’m planning our next meal…as when I’m in the market wondering what I should make, or setting up my weekend cooking projects. I’ve loved the chevre w/sauteed grapes, adored the red lentil/kabocha squash soup with harissa oil and the Ethiopian ful medames, received raves about the corn & tomato confit risotto and roasted cauliflower with spicy tomato sauce/rigatoni…I am so excited to explore all of the recipes in the book because everything so far has been a smash! And did I say, EASY? Thanks!

    • Reply
      July 25, 2013 at 8:55 pm #

      That’s great to hear, Jackie! It makes me happy to know you’ve tried and enjoyed so many of the recipes.

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