Spring, with its lighter, greener dishes and view toward bikini season, is just about here. So now is the perfect time to get in the last hearty tastes of winter.
PASTA WITH CAULIFLOWER OR BROCCOLI RABE AND SAUSAGE
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 cauliflower (about 3 pounds), trimmed and cut into florets, or the same amount of broccoli or broccoli rabe
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small piece very hot dried chile or 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
7 ounces finely ground unseasoned bulk sausage
∏ cup dry, full-bodied red wine
1 pound orecchiette, fusilli or penne
Bring 5 quarts water to boil in an 8-quart pot over high heat. Add salt, then vegetables, and boil until just tender. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Reserve cooking water in the pot for boiling the pasta later. (I used cauliflower, but roasted it with a little olive oil in a 450-degree oven for 30 minutes instead of boiling it.)
Put oil, garlic and piece of chile (but not pepper flakes) in a large, deep skillet that will hold all the pasta later. Saute for a few minutes, just until garlic is golden and chile has darkened, then discard garlic and chile. Crumble sausage meat into skillet. Brown evenly, stirring, for about 5 minutes.
Raise heat and add wine. Let it bubble until smell of alcohol has disappeared, about 2 minutes. Stir often to keep meat from sticking. (The sausage will look purple from the wine, but not to worry.) Add cooked vegetables and mix well. If you are using pepper flakes instead of a single piece of chile, add them now.
Bring vegetable water back to boil and cook pasta until al dente.
While pasta is cooking, reheat vegetables and sausage over low heat. After pasta is half done, add a little of its cooking water to sauce and let it absorb.
When pasta is al dente, transfer it, dripping wet, with a handheld colander or spider strainer to skillet. Mix well over low heat for just half a minute.
Mix in cheese and serve immediately, either from skillet or in a warmed serving bowl.