Published September 1, 2009.
The problem with this dish isn’t the vegetables or pasta. It’s the sauce.
Most recipes attempt to unify the vegetables and pasta with nothing more than olive oil and a little cheese. The oil makes it greasy, but using less is likely to leave you with a dry and uninspiring mix.
We wanted sweet and complex vegetables and a simple sauce that united the components of this dish.
At the outset, we decided to develop a few different dishes, each focused on getting the best from a single vegetable. We settled on cauliflower (sweet and nutty when roasted), broccoli (browns nicely), and portobello mushrooms (earthy and meaty). We cut the vegetables into slices or wedges to maximize the surface area available for browning; tossed them with oil, salt, pepper, and a little sugar to jump-start caramelization; and roasted them on a preheated baking sheet. (Preheating cuts the cooking time and boosts browning.)
Then it was time to face our central dilemma: the sauce. Cream-based sauces muted the vegetable flavor, and vegetable-based sauces overwhelmed our veggies. The only option that showed promise was a garlicky vinaigrette—we liked the way the garlic bumped up the overall flavor of the dish—but the vinegar was harsh. Cutting back on vinegar meant upping the oil, and then we were back where we started. We needed an ingredient that could replace some of the oil and add both body and complementary flavor, without imparting overt richness. We found a solution right in front of us: garlic, which turns sweet and buttery-soft when roasted. We wrapped garlic heads in foil and roasted them along with the veggies, then squeezed the cloves from their skins and mashed them with extra-virgin olive oil and a little lemon juice. This creamy puree worked beautifully as a sauce, adding an earthy sweetness that complemented all three vegetables. We finished our sauces with herbs, nuts, and cheese that enhanced each vegetable’s flavor and texture.list of recipes