Call this wheat on wheat. Comfort food after days in the yard and basement, still cleaning up after the recent hurricane. Go for it while the gluten-frees are away. Truthfully, the wheat-dominated ingredients are just vehicles: cauliflower, bacon and herbs are the predominate flavors. The pasta and whole wheat bread crumbs are background ingredients.
I still have abundant cauliflower from recent gleaning days at our CSA. So many of the plants were dislodged – gone sideways – during Superstorm Sandy. The cauliflowers were therefore never harvested despite being superb, and we found them abundant once we got into the rhythm of finding them. Sliced cauliflower florets roasted in the oven with olive oil and salt is a norm. Combining them with whole-wheat pasta is pretty normal too. Even the addition of chunks of thick bacon. What made this version special were the flavor and crunch of the seedy whole-wheat breadcrumbs flavored with a very special rosemary and sage rub.
I’ve written about this rub before, in a series on preserving herbs, a task that I start in the summer and conclude around now as I clean out my pot garden. Although the recent mild winters here allow me to use my herb garden year-round, I always cut back the rosemary and sage, trying to do it before the weather becomes too cold. (Otherwise, the pruning will stimulate growth and the plant will freeze to death.)
To preserve rosemary and sage, I use an excellent recipe from David Lebovitz, who learned it from a friend. (He called it Italian herb rub.) Rosemary and sage leaves are finely chopped and combined with garlic finely chopped with sea salt (my own twist on his technique). The mixture is dried on pans for a few days in a non-drafty room or in an unlit gas oven (another twist of mine since my house is sometimes humid). The heat from the pilot light creates a great environment for slow drying. This is a great combination. I use it on pork and poultry, on roasted roots and nuts, and on breadcrumbs and croutons.
Here I tore whole wheat bread into coarse chunks, sprinkled them with olive oil and the rosemary-sage rub, and baked them, turning occasionally, in a 400-degree oven along with the cauliflower. The bread took under 5 minutes and the cauliflower closer to 10. Tossed with pasta and cauliflower, the toasted bread (and the bacon of course) added a textural contrast and a burst of flavor that are most welcome on a late fall day.
Rosemary-Sage Salt adapted from David Lebovitz
1½ c sage leaves (removed from stems)
1 c rosemary leaves (removed from stems)
1 tbsp salt (I used gray sea salt, slightly coarse)
3 large cloves garlic
Finely chop the sage and rosemary (by hand or pulsed in a food processor). Chop the garlic with the salt, until fine but do not turn into a paste. Combine all ingredients and spread them out on baking sheets. Either air-dry them indoors, away from sunlight and drafts for 2-3 days, or in a gas oven (with only the heat of the pilot light) for a day or so, until the mixture is completely dry. Store in a dark place in an airtight container.
Makes about 1 cup.