lemon-thyme penne with creamy mushrooms, leeks + roasted cauliflower

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One of the simplest ways I like to enjoy pasta is with olive oil, crumbled feta and strips of salami that I tear lazily with my fingers over the plate. Truthfully, I could (and do) spend a lot of evenings eating this way. It’s a plate that’s ever-win when you just want to twirl spaghetti on a fork with re-runs and your feet up.
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But when I have a bit more time, I like to invite other ingredients to be tasted. Often obvious things like: grape tomatoes, sweet sausage or chopped eggplant. Other times, things like cauliflower. But most of all, things that are roasted.
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I am always keen on roasted things, which is really just another way of saying, I’ve taken a liking to things that have gotten a little more wrinkled, a little more brown. They’ve made a hot oven their home a little bit longer, have let up some of their moisture and charred in some places, and in exchange they’ve deepened exponentially in flavor with just a bit of salt, a bit of oil, some speckles of pepper. Roasted things, are in fact, all the wiser.
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This pasta, being part roasted thing, makes it part delicious, at the very least, in my book. The creamy mascarpone, that’s full of home, no matter where you find yourself, in that mac-and-cheese kind of way, isn’t bad either.
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 You’ll want to sit a while with a bowl, and soak up the sunny lemon penne, and then savour the thyme and earthy mushrooms, the quiet sweetness of softened leeks and that characteristic breadcrumb-crunch.
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And, yes, you can still kick your feet up.
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  • 1/2 lb. penne, cooked al dente + 1 scant cup of its water, reserved from boiling
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large head of cauliflower, chopped into small florets
  • 2 large leeks, trimmed,  chopped into 1/4″ half moons
  • 2 cups mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2-3 tablespoons dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • squeeze fresh lemon juice
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs (optional)
  • chopped parsley, for garnish

Preheat oven to 425 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for pasta.

In a medium-sized bowl, drizzle cauliflower with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste and toss gently. Spread in a single layer on baking sheet. Roast for about 30 minutes, until tender and golden brown.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan, add leeks, thyme, more red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste and saute until softened. Simmer leeks with stock and white wine for an additional ten minutes, or until reduced by half. Add chopped mushrooms and continue to cook until browned, about two minutes.

Meanwhile, cook pasta to al dente and drain it, reserving a scant cup of its water to be re-added later.

Stir cooked pasta into mushroom-leek mixture, reducing heat to medium-low and adding mascarpone, reserved pasta water, lemon juice and parmesan cheese. Stir in roasted cauliflower. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and chopped parsley if desired. Serve hot.

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