Spaghettini with Roasted Cauliflower + Pancetta is the epitome of simple ingredients coming together to create an incredibly satisfying pasta dish full of flavor, textures, and comfort!
Roasted Cauliflower + Pancetta Spaghettini Pasta
Sometimes I just want a simply sauced pasta. No simmering tomatoes for hours. No heavy creams. Maybe just a little olive oil and pasta water. Who’s with me?
What I love about pasta with olive oil is that it can carry other ingredients in so many directions. I’ve made this with grilled mussels + citrus…with Italian sausage + greens. You really can throw anything at it.
In this version, I’m tossing it together with roasted, caramelized vegetables, salty pancetta and topping it with crispy, lemony breadcrumbs. It’s simple, rustic and I can’t get enough!
Ingredients for Spaghettini with Roasted Cauliflower + Pancetta
In addition to pantry staples like extra virgin olive oil, kosher salt + fresh cracked black pepper, you’ll need:
- Fresh cauliflower — roasting will bring out it’s sweetness and add color around the edges.
- Red onion — caramelizes along with the cauliflower and adds umami.
- Fresh thyme — woody, earthy, but not heavy, it’s a perfect aromatic addition.
- Thin spaghetti — I use De Cecco, No. 11. More delicate than spaghetti, it’s texture is just right for the light sauce. You may also find ‘spaghettini’ in your pasta aisle.
- Better Than Bouillon Vegetable Base — I use the reduced sodium variety. One teaspoon mixed into pasta water and you’ve got an easy flavor booster for your sauce. I always have a jar in my fridge and use it universally whenever a recipe calls for broth (chicken, beef or veg).
- Pancetta — cubed pancetta is rendered and crisped. The little bits give a salty, nutty surprise when you catch one. The fat adds flavor to toasted breadcrumbs.
- Panko breadcrumbs — the airy, crispy quality of these is perfect for this recipe, but you could substitute regular or homemade as well.
- Pine nuts — get toasted with the breadcrumbs to bring out their subtle nutty sweetness.
- Lemon zest — adds a fresh balance to the other ingredients.
- Fresh garlic — infuses the olive oil…and because pasta. 😉
- Red pepper flakes — these provide a slow heat throughout. Reduce or omit if you’re not a fan.
- Italian parsley — this is a bit of window dressing…the green flecks are pretty.
- Parmigiano Reggiano — gets tossed throughout for a nutty, salty bite.
How to Make This Dish
Roast the veggies — Place the cauliflower, onions and thyme on a sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper. Toss it all together, then roast in a 425°F oven for 35 minutes. About halfway through, give it a stir. After you remove the pan from the oven, you can discard the thyme stems.
Crisp the pancetta + breadcrumbs — Use a small nonstick skillet for these steps. Drizzle a little olive oil in the pan and add the pancetta. Cook it over medium heat until it’s crispy and has rendered most of its fat, about 5 minutes. Remove it to paper towels with a slotted spoon, and reserve about 1-1/2 tablespoons of the fat in the pan.
Add the breadcrumbs and pine nuts to the pan and toast until golden brown. This takes another 3 to 5 minutes. Stir occasionally for even browning. Just before they’re done, stir in the lemon zest, then remove the mixture to a bowl.
Cook the pasta + save some water — While you’re working on the pancetta + breadcrumbs, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the spaghettini for 7 to 9 minutes (I like it al dente, so I go for 7). Before you drain the pot, dip a measuring cup in and collect 1 cup of pasta water.
Stir the Better Than Bouillon into the pasta water and set it aside.
Start the sauce — Use your pasta pot! Return it to a burner over medium heat and make sure all the water has evaporated. Add the olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper all at once. Cook it for about 1 minute…too long and the garlic will burn. You don’t want that, but a little color is just fine.
Throw in the parsley and stand back! The hot oil may cause the parsley to sputter and pop (which is kind of fun to watch!).
Bring it all together — Return the pasta to the pot along with the roasted veggies, pancetta and grated parm. Toss everything together. Add as much or as little of the reserved pasta water to create a light sauce (I add the entire cup).
Variations + Substitutions for This Pasta Recipe
Omit the pancetta entirely. In place of the rendered fat, simply use the equivalent amount of olive oil to toast the breadcrumbs and pine nuts. For a vegan version, omit the cheese or use a vegan substitute.
If you’re not a fan of cauliflower, some great substitutions are broccoli/broccolini, zucchini, brussels sprouts, parsnips, squashes…just keep in mind that roasting times may vary depending on the veg you choose. Likewise, if you want to use another variety of onion, go for it!
If that little portion of pancetta (really just intended to add flavor) isn’t enough protein for you, consider swapping it out with Italian sausage (crumbles or sliced links). Or, add in milder proteins like sliced, grilled chicken or browned ground turkey (seasoned with your favorite herbs + spices).
Omit the pine nuts, or swap them for pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds (my personal choice).
Hey…we all need to skip the pasta every once in awhile. Instead of spaghettini, sub in 4 medium, spiralized zucchini. No need to boil. Toss them into the pot at the same time you toss in the roasted veggies, pancetta, and parmesan. Mix one cup of water with vegetable bouillon (or use 1 cup canned broth), and toss that through. Cook for a minute or two just until the zucchini is warmed through. Taste it for seasoning…you may want to add a bit more salt or cheese.
Try These Other Pasta Recipes
- The Ultimate Lobster Mac + Cheese
- Creamy Roasted Cauliflower Pasta Bake
- Baked Cheesy Pasta + Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash
- Creamy Mushroom Ravioli with Spring Vegetables
Spaghettini with Roasted Cauliflower + Pancetta
- 1 head cauliflower (about 1.25-1.5 lbs) cut into florets
- 1 large red onion cut into wedges
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- kosher salt + fresh cracked black pepper
- 6 sprigs thyme
- 12 oz thin spaghetti I use De Cecco, No. 11
- 1 tsp Better Than Bouillon Vegetable Base reduced sodium variety
- 4 oz pancetta diced
- ½ cup Panko breadcrumbs
- 3 tbsp pine nuts
- 1 lemon zested
- 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic chopped
- ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes decrease for less heat
- ⅓ cup Italian parsley chopped (measure after chopping)
- ½ cup Parmigiano Reggiano freshly grated
- Preheat your oven to 425°F.
- On a sheet pan, toss together the cauliflower, onions and thyme with 3 tbsp of olive oil, 3/4 tsp of kosher salt and some fresh cracked black pepper. Roast for 35 minutes, tossing it halfway through. Once done, discard any woody thyme stems.
- In a small nonstick skillet over medium heat, add a little drizzle of olive oil and the diced Pancetta. Cook until crisp, about 5 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Reserve about 1-1/2 tbsp of fat in the pan.
- Add the breadcrumbs and pine nuts to the pancetta fat and toast until the crumbs are golden brown and crispy, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir occasionally for even cooking. At the end, stir in the lemon zest, then remove the mixture to a bowl.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta for 7 to 9 minutes (7 for al dente). Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water (just dip a measuring cup into the pasta pot) before draining the pasta in a colander. Stir the Better than Bouillon into the reserved pasta water and set aside.
- Return the pasta pot to medium heat and allow the water to evaporate. Add 6 tbsp of olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper to the pot and cook for about 1 minute; it's okay for the garlic to get a little color, but you don't want it to burn. Toss in the chopped parsley; be careful as it might sputter and pop.
- Return the pasta to the pot along with the roasted vegetables, pancetta, and grated Parmigiano. Toss everything together, adding enough reserved pasta water to create a light sauce (add as much or as little as you like, I add the entire cupful).
- Divide the pasta between serving bowls and garnish each with the breadcrumb mixture. If you like, have some extra crushed red pepper and grated parm to pass around.
Nutritional values are estimated and provided as a general guideline only.