Veganuary? I don’t think so!

A New Year

Like many of you, I start off the new year trying to be healthier. Don’t lie! You know you do it too! There are mantras of exercising more, eating less junk, drinking less, or cutting carbs. There are those trying a new diet, whether it be keto, Whole 30, WW or Noom. And then there are the month challenge people. The ones who make January “dry” or those that embrace Veganuary.

I can’t Embrace Veganuary

This year, I started tracking a lot of my small behaviors in an effort to improve myself and my health. I am tracking things like eating five fruits and/or veggies a day (I truthfully suck at it because I am a carbaholic). But I can’t go so far as to embrace Veganuary because it is, after all LeAnneuary*. I’d have to cut out ALL of my favorite foods and I simply cannot have that kind of restriction while I celebrate! I AM, however, trying to make at least one meal a week “mostly meatless”. And by that, I mean that I am not eliminating the umami power of anchovy paste or Parmigiana Reggiano. I am not eliminating the wonderful egg, or rendered fat of beasts for pan frying or sautéing. I am simply not making meat the focus of the dish.

For those of us that grew up with a meat, a starch, and a veg on the plate (with maybe a salad tossed on the side), changing up the way you think of dinner is a challenge. One of the challenges I have set for myself is to use ALL of the veggies from my Bountiful Baskets Co-Op purchase each week I choose to participate. This, in itself, is monumental! You really get a lot of bang for your buck with this particular Co-Op (look into what’s available in your area). We’ve been doing a lot more salads, incorporating veggies into dishes where they weren’t featured before, and making veggies the FOCUS of the dishes instead of the meat.

Bountiful Baskets Produce
This is what one “regular” basket plus a couple of add ons looks like from Bountiful Baskets

When thinking about cooking for Veganuary or any vegan meal, try Thug Kitchen cookbooks. They are peppered with profanity and offer up some pretty tasty options. Also look at What The Fuck Should I Make for Dinner. Each day there will be a different menu – one for omnivores and one for vegetarians or those celebrating Veganuary. And get the book. Many of the recipes can be altered to be vegetarian and there are great veg mains and salads like a vegan fennel salad with citrus and avocado, or a frisee (aka curly endive), apple and lemon salad. All of the recipes in WTF are infinitely “riff-able”; for example, I made the frisee salad for a get together, and subbed radicchio and sweet apples for the Belgian endive and tart apples called for and it was glorious anyway! Oh, and try this recipe I found in the New York Times. It was more delicious than a vegan recipe had any right to be. I ended up using the left over tahini dressing on shawarma salads.

It’s not too late to celebrate Veganuary if you choose. There are 10 days left to embrace your inner veg-head. Try out this recipe. To make it Vegan – simply eliminate the anchovy paste and the cheese. It’ll still taste great, I promise! The best part of this recipe is that you can do nearly all of the prep work while the cauliflower is roasting, so there is no wasted time.

Roasted Cauliflower with Pasta and Pine Nuts

Serves 4 generously. Total time, including the roasting of the veggies – about an hour
• 1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
• Extra Virgin Olive Oil
• Kosher Salt
• Black pepper
• Crushed red pepper flakes
• 6 large cloves garlic, crushed into a paste or finely minced – for divided use
• 1 lb pasta – choose a fun shape like cavatappi or campanelle
• 1 shallot – finely diced
• 1 tbsp anchovy paste (optional)
• ½ C dry white wine
• 1 lemon – zested and juiced
• 3 – 4 tbsp Pine nuts (aka pignolis) toasted in a dry skillet – do this carefully and watch them like a hawk, they will go from not done to burnt in the blink of an eye. (see notes)
• 3 – 4 tbsp capers, drained, rinsed and dried in a hot dry skillet (trust me, you’ll get more caper flavor and less brine flavor this way)
• 3 tbsp Finely chopped fresh parsley if you have it on hand – totally optional (see Notes)
• Grated Parmigiana Reggiano or Pecorino Romano for serving (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400.
Step 1 – Toss florets with ¼ – 1/3 cup of olive oil, a tsp of Kosher salt, ½ of the garlic, and a ½ tsp each ground black pepper and the crushed red pepper. Place on a shallow rimmed baking sheet in the preheated oven and roast, shaking the pan and tossing the cauliflower frequently, for 30-40 minutes until it is dark golden brown.

Roasted Cauliflower
The florets should be bite sized. You don’t need a knife to eat this dish. And remember what Anne Burrell says…”Brown food is good food.”

Step 2 – While cauliflower is roasting, do your prep. Dice the shallot, zest and juice the lemon; and drain, rinse, and dry the capers (see pic below). Finely chop the parsley, if using. Set everything aside.

Build a flavor ladder when you cook.
These are the prep ingredients. from Top center: Pecorino Romano, juice of one lemon, anchovy paste, zest of one lemon, garlic mashed into a paste, finely diced shallot, the dried capers.
Capers get dried in a skillet for more flavor
Drain and rinse the capers. Then “toast” them in a hot dry skillet until they start to pop a little. You will get more caper flavor and less brine flavor that way.

Step 3 – Bring a pot of salted water to a boil (always remember – your pasta water should be as salty as the ocean) using HALF the water you think you should. You want the water to be super starchy because it will help make the base of your sauce. Cook the pasta until just al dente, or firm to the bite, remembering that it will cook a little more in the skillet. Remove 2 cups of the pasta water and set aside. Drain the pasta (DO NOT RINSE IT) and leave it in the colander.
Step 4 – Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil, about 3 tbsp, and heat until it shimmers. Sauté the shallots until softened, add the remaining garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the anchovy paste and continue to cook until the shallots just start to brown. Deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping up any delicious browned bits on the bottom of the pan (this is called the “fond” and is a big part of your flavor ladder when building a sauce). Reduce the liquid by half – don’t skip this step or all you will taste is the wine; wine, like everything needs to cook to mellow out. Add in the starchy pasta water and cook until a thin sauce forms – about 2 minutes. Stir in ½ of the lemon juice (reserve remainder for another use), then add the pasta and the cauliflower, stirring to coat. If you didn’t use the anchovy paste, taste for salt and add if necessary. If you used the anchovy paste, AND you properly salted your water, you shouldn’t need any salt.
Finally – stir in the lemon zest, pine nuts and parsley. Either put into individual serving bowls or transfer to a platter for family style service with the cheese and additional crushed red pepper on the side for serving.

Roasted Cauliflower with Pasta & Pine Nuts
The finished dish. Sadly it doesn’t photograph really well, but trust me, It’s delish!

• I often get fresh parsley from the Co-Op. Adding it for color and freshness to this type of recipe is an easy way to use it up.
• You can toast the pine nuts ahead of time and store in an air tight container until ready to use
• The cauliflower can be roasted ahead of time and stored in the fridge. For example – double the roasted cauliflower one night as a side dish and make and assemble the recipe for dinner the following night using the leftovers.

*I celebrate the entire month of my birth, as my friend Deb taught me to do years ago. I know many of you will think it’s a “basic bitch” thing to do and I really don’t give a flying fuck. You celebrate YOUR birthday any way you like, or not; for me, I will have LeAnneuary.