It’s happened to many of us.  Dinnertime, and you’re itching to try some fancy, exotic new recipe to bring out the foodie in you and your spouse.  But your kids are refusing to put anything in their mouths that’s not macaroni and cheese.  So who wins?  Break out the Kraft; this battle was over before it began.

It happens to me, too.  Contrary to popular belief, cookbook authors do not make fabulous, home-cooked, gourmet meals every single night.  I try to prepare a “proper” dinner for my family several nights a week, but being the parent of a toddler can make it difficult to move away from boring staples: store-bought chicken sausages, simple roasted chicken, pasta with pesto (possibly my son’s favorite food).  Kids are picky eaters by definition, so cooking for them while still maintaining your personal culinary standards can be tough.

What I love to do is to find dishes that are familiar enough that my son is willing to try them, but interesting enough to provide him- and us- with varied taste experiences.  That’s why I would recommend this recipe to anyone in a similar situation.  It has familiar textures and flavors that appeal to kids (pasta! tomatoes!) but has the sophistication and healthiness that appeal to adults.

Roasting the cauliflower with red onions and garlic brings out the sweet, earthy flavors, and the buttery toasted breadcrumbs add a welcome crunch. Prep is a breeze—you can prepare the rest of the dish while the vegetables are in the oven. Breadcrumbs can be toasted ahead and stored, in an airtight container, in the fridge or freezer. When ready to use, let sit out on the counter until warmed to room temperature.  Also, feel free to use another pasta shape- rotelle, orechiette, or small shells would work well- if your supermarket doesn’t carry gemelli.


Gemelli with Roasted Cauliflower, Tomatoes, & Crispy Breadcrumbs

Photo by Andres Ramirez.  Reproductions of this photograph must be accompanied by attribution.

Gemelli with Roasted Cauliflower, Tomatoes and Crispy Breadcrumbs
From and The Lazy Gourmet: Magnificent Meals Made Easy by Robin Donovan and Juliana Gallin (Viva Editions, 2011)

1 head cauliflower (about 11/2 pounds florets), cut into small pieces

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

2–3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2–1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3/4 pound gemelli or other pasta

cups (about ounces) sourdough bread cubes

tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained (reserve juice)

1/4 cup capers, drained

1/4–1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

freshly grated parmesan cheese for serving

Preheat oven to 450°f.

In a baking dish, toss cauliflower, onion, and garlic with olive oil, coating vegetables thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper, and roast in preheated oven for 35 to 45 minutes, stirring once about halfway through, until cauliflower is tender and beginning to brown.

While the vegetables are in the oven, heat a large pot of salted water (large enough to hold all ingredients) over high heat and cook pasta according to the instructions on the package.

Whirl bread in a food processor to make crumbs, pulsing, until the largest pieces are roughly the size of peas. Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat and add butter. When butter is melted and bubbling, add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring frequently, until crispy, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

When pasta is cooked, drain and return to the pot on the stove. Add roasted vegetables, tomatoes, capers, and crushed red pepper and cook over medium heat, stirring, until just heated through. If the mixture looks too dry, add a bit of the reserved tomato juice. Stir until well combined. Serve in pasta bowls topped with breadcrumbs and generously garnished with cheese.

Serves 6 to 8.


Robin Donovan is the coauthor with Juliana Gallin of The Lazy Gourmet: Magnificent Meals Made Easy, and is also the author if Campfire Cuisine: Gourmet Recipes for the Great Outdoors. She is a San Francisco-based freelance journalist, book author, blogger, and editor specializing in food, cooking, travel, and other lifestyle topics. Her food writing has appeared in Fitness, San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, and many other publications. For more receipts from Robin and Julianna visit and follow Robin on Twitter.