Sauceless Spaghetti with Caramelised Cauliflower and Smoky Pancetta

Spaghetti with cauliflower, garlic and pancetta

We often ate this simple pasta recipe when I was a child and it is one of my favourite go to recipes when I’m in a hurry, as it is “sauce less” but nevertheless very tasty.

The secret to this rustic dish lies in using quality ingredients, so use plenty of the best garlic you can find and a cauliflower with taut, white florets.

My mother’s original recipe was vegetarian but I sometimes add smoked pancetta cubes. This works really well because the bacon provides a crispy, salty contrast to the sweet, soft cauliflower, in a ying and yang kind of way. But they they are not essential and you can leave them out if you prefer.

If you like your dishes hot and spicy, you could also add a sprinkling of chili flakes when frying the cauliflower and garlic.



Serves 4

  • 1 large cauliflower
  • 320g spaghetti
  • 2 x160g packs of smoked pancetta cubes (optional)
  • 4-5 large cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped.
  • 1 slice of lemon (the lemon will keep the cauliflower white while it cooks and also adds a hint of citrus).
  • 1 tbspn chopped parsley
  • 3 tbspns of olive oil
  • salt and pepper


  1. Remove outer leaves and cut off the stem close to the head. (see pic below).
  2. Wash cauliflower and cut away the florets from the central stalk. Chop any of the larger florets into smaller, even sized pieces. This will help them cook evenly.
  3. Put the florets, chopped stalk and lemon into a large pan of boiling salted water. (The water should be deep enough to cover the cauliflower pieces.)
  4. Bring back to the boil and then turn down cooker to a rolling boil. Cook cauliflower for only several minutes. You are aiming for the florets to retain their crunch and not get too soft as the cauliflower will be fried later. Test by piercing with a small pointed knife.
  5. Take pan off the hob and remove florets from the hot water using a slotted spoon. Drain using a colander. Keep the cauliflower water but discard the lemon slice.
  6. Blanch the cauliflower florets by plunging them in a bowl of cold water for a couple of minutes. (This will prevent the florets from continuing to cook and becoming too soft). Drain the cauliflower again and set to one side.
  7. Top up the pan of cauliflower water with sufficient boiling water to cook the spaghetti, salt and bring back to the boil. Add the spaghetti.
  8. When spaghetti has been cooking for a couple of minutes, heat the oil in a large frying pan.
  9. Fry pancetta and cauliflower for a couple of minutes until cauliflower starts to brown but not burn. Then add the garlic and parsley.
  10. When spaghetti is cooked, drain and plunge into cold salted water to stop it becoming starchy and sticking together. Drain quickly using a sieve and set aside.
  11. Once the cauliflower mixture has caramelised (this should be roughly around the same time as the spaghetti), turn off the cooker. Quickly add the drained spaghetti to the frying pan and toss it in the mixture so that the pasta picks up all the lovely pancetta and garlicky flavours from the pan. (You may need to add the spaghetti in stages if your pan is not big enough and distribute the fried mixture evenly among the portions).
  12. Serve immediately topped with ground black pepper and a liberal helping of grated parmesan.
  13. Enjoy!

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