Best School Lunch: Sicilian Broccoli and Cauliflower Pasta Recipe

A short while back we blogged about the woes of school lunch options. But I am here today to assure you that there are a few inspiring stories stirring up the world of cafeteria slop. This delicious recipe, taken from 101 Cookbooks, was originally prepared by Chef Tracy Bates of the Oxbow High School cafeteria kitchen in Napa, California. Heidi Swanson, author and creator of 101 Cookbooks, deems it The Best School Lunch.

To make Oxbow’s story even more special, Bates and her staff operate out of their own vegetable garden just outside the kitchen’s window. Students also have the opportunity to help with planting, weeding and harvesting each week.

It would be wonderful to see Philadelphia’s schools moving in this direction. Check out the recipe after the jump.

Sicilian Broccoli and Cauliflower Pasta

Ingredients:

1 bunch broccoli, trimmed of tough ends
1 head cauliflower, quartered, core removed
2 medium yellow onions, sliced 1/4 inch, lengthwise
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
A generous pinch of saffron threads
A generous pinch of red pepper flakes, more to taste
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
olive oil as needed
2 tablespoons golden raisins, plumped in warm water, drained
1/2 cup lightly toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley for garnish
Freshly grated Parmesan, to taste, about 1 cup
kosher salt, to taste
1 pound dried pasta, sturdy variety such as Penne Rigate (cooked al dente, according to package directions)
1 cup pasta water, reserved from cooking (may or may not get used, but very handy to have when putting the pasta together).

Directions:

Slice the broccoli stems crosswise into 1/4 inch slices. Slice the florets lengthwise, also 1/4 inch thick. Start by slicing from the stem-end up towards the floret and when you get to about an inch and a half from the top, turn it lengthwise to slice the floret. The florets tend to fall apart, that's ok, this is a rustic dish.

Cut cauliflower into similar sized pieces as the broccoli.

Heat a large heavy saute pan or skillet over moderate heat. (The pan should be large enough to hold the broccoli in a couple of layers, but not heaping/spilling out of the pan.) When the pan is hot add a generous splash of olive oil and all the broccoli. Turn the heat up to high and add a generous amount of salt. It's important to get the seasoning in the broccoli from the start, otherwise it will be bland, taste broccoli about halfway through cooking. Stir-fry the broccoli until it is tender and browned in spots, adding more oil if needed and taste for salt. This can take about 10 minutes. Set aside broccoli (drain off excess oil if you wish)

Cook the cauliflower in the same pan, in the same manner. If the pan isn't too brown, just go straight ahead and add some oil and throw in the cauliflower. If it is too brown, rinse the pan and proceed with the recipe. Again, initial seasoning is important, so taste for salt about halfway through cooking. Add the cauliflower to the broccoli.

Using the same pan (rinse if needed), cook the onions in olive oil over moderate heat. When the onions begin to soften add the garlic, saffron, hot pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt. Be careful not to let the garlic burn. Cook mixture until the onions are tender but not brown, about 5 minutes. The onions will turn a vivid yellow from the saffron. Set aside.

To assemble the pasta:

Warm a large pasta bowl. Drain the pasta, reserving some of the water.
Toss hot pasta back into its pot and put it back on the stove on very low heat, add the broccoli, cauliflower, saffron, onions, rosemary, raisins and half of the pine nuts, and parsley. Stir to combine, adding some pasta water to the mixture. Raise the heat a bit to bring it all together. Taste for seasoning.

Turn into the warm pasta bowl and top with remaining parsley, pine nuts and a generous handful of Parmesan. Serve immediately with more Parmesan on the side. Whew!

Serves 8-10