Pasta with Cauliflower, Saffron, Crushed Chili Peppers, Parsley, and Feta

A great weeknight pasta dish packed full of vegetables and flavor.

Pasta with Cauliflower, Saffron, Crushed Chili Peppers, Parsley, and Feta

A pasta dish is a great weeknight dinner choice, but sometimes the traditional flavors of tomato, basil, and garlic can become tedious. This recipe adapted from the vegetable queen Deborah Madison reimagines pasta as a supporting character in a dish, there to soak up the flavors created by the combination of cauliflower, saffron, crushed chili peppers, and parsley. A sprinkling of feta at the end adds a creamy saltiness, but you can skip the feta if you want. If anything, leaving the feta out allows the other flavors to really shine. Keep this recipe in mind when you're looking for an easy, healthy pasta dish that doesn't rely on a traditional sauce!

Spices used in this recipe

Chili Peppers, Crushed
Salt, Kosher


  • 1 medium head cauliflower, broken into small florets, core diced
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
  • 2 pinches Vanns Saffron threads
  • 1 medium clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. Vanns Crushed Chili Peppers
  • 4 Tbs. parsley, leaves and tender stems finely chopped
  • Vanns Kosher Salt
  • 8 oz. short pasta, such as campanelle, shells, farfalle, radiatore, or orecchiette
  • 2 oz. feta, crumbled, more to taste (optional)


  1. Before prepping the ingredients, start a pot of water to boil, making sure the pot has a steamer basket that fits well inside and a lid. The level of water inside will depend on what kind of steamer you have -- fill it so that the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the steamer basket.
  2. When water is boiling, put the cauliflower florets in the steamer and steam until just beginning to become tender, 3-4 minutes. They shouldn’t be quite cooked yet. Remove from heat and set aside. 
  3. Add more water to fill the pot three-quarters full and add a few big pinches of kosher salt. Bring to a boil for cooking the pasta while you go through the next steps.
  4. In a large skillet, heat 2 Tbs. of extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saffron and cook until onion is soft and saffron is fragrant, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the garlic, crushed chili flakes, and 1 Tbs. parsley and cook for 1 minute more.
  5. Add the cauliflower florets, 1 cup water, and a pinch of kosher salt to the skillet, stirring to coat the cauliflower with the onions and parsley. Simmer gently over medium heat until cauliflower is fully cooked and the water has mostly evaporated, 6-10 minutes. Stir in the rest of the parsley and taste for salt, adding more if necessary. Remove from heat, but keep the cauliflower mixture in the skillet.
  6. Cook the pasta to an al dente texture according to package directions. When finished, reserve ½ cup of the pasta water before draining. Add the pasta to the cauliflower skillet along with a few tablespoons pasta water and simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently. Add more pasta water if the mixture looks very dry. When pasta and cauliflower is combined to your liking, usually after only 1 or 2 minutes of simmering and stirring, taste for salt and  if necessary adjust seasoning, transfer to a serving vessel, and sprinkle with crumbled feta.

Serves 4. Adapted from Vegetable Literacy.

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