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whole wheat spaghettini with harissa roasted cauliflower, capers, and walnuts

I was so worried that by the middle of November I’d be a quivering ball of grad student stress. I’m not. On the contrary, I’m seriously enjoying the molecular nutrition course we’re working on right now. Typically, the course which looked the most scary to me is the one I’ve, so far, liked the best. Last week we did host-microbe interactions in health and disease (gut microbiota are amazing!) and this week it was physiology of the endocrine pancreas and diabetes. Did you know that genetics plays a bigger role in the development of type 2 diabetes than type 1?

Although I’m fairly certain my thesis work will be more public health than molecular nutrition focused (says the girl who systematically dismantled her calculator on the last day of high school and swore she’d never again face math or science…) I am pretty keen to dig deeper in this area. I’ll be spending much of the next eight weeks immersed in research on either molecular aspects of obesity, brain pathways controlling food intake and body weight, or molecular mechanisms of food allergy. I can’t decide!

Whole wheat spaghettini with harissa roasted cauliflower, capers, and walnuts.

You may not find gut flora as exciting as I do (what?!), but hopefully you’ll get pumped up about this pasta. It’s one of those super simple meals which comes together in a flash but is also bursting with flavours. It’s spicy, salty, and a bit crunchy. A perfect meal to have up your sleeve for getting on to the table quickly and impressively. I dare say this dish can do double duty as a casual weeknight dinner but also dinner party fare.

A head of cauliflower gets chopped up into florets, tossed with harissa paste, then roasted until golden and a tad crispy. A pot of whole wheat spaghettini is boiled up in nice, salty water. Walnuts join the cauliflower for the final minutes of roasting. Then, everything comes together with a handful of salty capers sprinkled over top.

whole wheat spaghettini with harissa roasted cauliflower, capers, and walnutsOne year ago: Oat Bars
Two years ago: Winter Market Soup

Whole Wheat Spaghettini With Harissa Roasted Cauliflower Recipe:

I like spaghettini because it cooks quickly and I like the texture of the skinny noodles. You can swap it out for any other pasta you like, though for a weeknight dinner I encourage you to choose a whole grain pasta. If gluten isn’t your thing, try a brown rice pasta. Look for a nice big head of cauliflower; I like this dish to be more vegetable than pasta.

Serves 4

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250g whole wheat spaghettini
1 large head of cauliflower, washed, dried, and broken into florets
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1-2 Tbsp harissa paste, depending on how spicy you like things (I used 2 Tbsp)
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly broken into pieces
4 Tbsp capers, drained
salt and pepper

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Preheat oven to 200 C / 400 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat. Set a large pot of water over high heat.

Place the cauliflower florets into a large bowl with olive oil, harissa paste, and little salt and pepper, and toss everything around until well and evenly coated. Spread in a single layer onto the baking tray and pop into the oven. Roast for 20 minutes, until tender on the inside but slightly crisped on the outside. In the final few minutes, toss the walnuts in with the cauliflower so they get a bit toasted. Be very careful they don’t burn.

When the water comes to the boil salt generously, then place the spaghettini in the pot. Stir around a bit to make sure it isn’t clumping, then allow to boil until just barely tender, about 10 minutes.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pasta from the pot into the same bowl you previously used for the cauliflower – there still should be a bit of harissa paste and olive oil clinging to the sides, and you can swoosh the pasta around to pick up those bits of flavour. Remove the cauliflower and walnuts from the oven and add to the pasta immediately, along with the capers. If you want to loosen it all up a bit, add 1/4 – 1/2 cup of pasta water, and a small glug of good olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, though be mindful of the saltiness from the capers and the pasta water.

Serve immediately, with extra capers and walnuts sprinkled over the top for garnish.

Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable, in the same family as broccoli, kale, and cabbage, with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory health benefits. Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate. It is a great source of vitamin B5, potassium, dietary fiber, and a good source of protein, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamins B1-3, and iron.

Whole wheat pasta, made from flour with the bran and germ intact, is a significantly better source of fiber and nutrients than the regular wheat version. Bear in mind that pasta portions, particularly in restaurants, are often waaaaaaay larger than they should be. Aim for around a 1 cup serving of cooked whole wheat pasta.

All text and photos © The Muffin Myth 2012

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