Penne with Pancetta and Romanesco Cauliflower

This pasta is both simple and delicious. It comes together so quickly and is a great way to feature an unusual ingredient.

Penne with Pancetta and Romanesco Cauliflower 

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 6Published

serves 4–6


  • salt (both for seasoning and for the pasta water)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 ounce pancetta, cut into 1 x ¼ x ¼‑inch batons
  • 1 pound dried penne
  • 2 medium onions, diced (½‑inch) (about 2 cups)
  • 1 head romanesco cauliflower florets (about 3 cups)
  • ¼ cup well rinsed capers, roughly chopped if quite large
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • ½ cup fine, dry bread crumbs, or as needed
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh italian parsley
  • good quality olive oil for drizzling


1. Slice the florets off the cauliflower. Then slice about half the larger florets into 1/8 inch thick pieces. They will break apart a bit producing some crumbly bits as well as nice neat slices. Keep these bits and then mix all the varying sized pieces of cauliflower together in a small bowl and set it aside.

2. Heat a good-sized sauté pan over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add about the pancetta batons and cook them 5 or 6 minutes until they render some fat. Don’t let them get too brown just yet.

3. Add the diced onion to the pan and cook the onion and the pancetta about 2 more minutes until the onions soften.

4. Add the capers to the pan and mix well. Turn the heat up to medium-high. When the pan gets hot its time to put the cauliflower into the pan. Add about half of it. Remember you goal is lots of interesting texture from the vegetables.

5. At this point be patient. Don’t stir the mixture around too much. Remember you want crisp and chewy textures. If you move the vegetables around too much you’ll end up with a steamed vegetables. Once some of the vegetables begin to get brown and crispy in a few areas you can give the pan a toss, or quick stir. Add the rest of the veggies and repeat the process. This way the texture really will run the gamut from crispy little bits, to soft luscious chunks.

6. Now add about 1 cup of chicken broth to the pan with the red pepper flakes.

7. Meanwhile prepare the penne according to the package direction until al dente. Then use a large wire skimmer to drop the pasta directly into the sauté pan. Some water will come along and that is just fine. Bring the sauce and penne to a boil, tossing and stirring to coat the pasta.

8. Check your seasoning. Stir in about ½ of the breadcrumbs, the parsley, and 2 tablespoons of good quality olive oil. Cook, stirring the pasta often, until the sauce is slightly thickened.

9. Pour the pasta out onto a serving platter. Garnish with the last of the breadcrumbs and serve it up!