If you have a day-old piece of country bread to use up, you can skip the panko; simply grate the bread on the coarse holes of a box grater. The crumbs will take a minute or two longer to toast, but are a thrifty way to use up old bread. The tang of grated pecorino is a great counterpart to this slightly sweet pasta sauce.
- 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the pot
- ½ cup golden raisins
- ½ teaspoon saffron threads
- One 4-inch-long chunk day-old bread, crust removed
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- 1 small head cauliflower, cut into small florets, plus the tender leaves, chopped
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tablepsoon tomato paste
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1 pound rigatoni
- ¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- ¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
- ½ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta. Put the raisins and saffron in a small bowl and cover with 1 cup hot pasta-cooking water. Let the raisins soak while you begin the pasta.
Grate the bread on the coarse holes of a box grater to get about 1 cup crumbs. Heat a medium skillet over medium heat. When the skillet is hot, add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the crumbs. Cook and stir until the crumbs are crisp and golden all over, about 3 to 4 minutes. Set aside to cool.
To a large skillet over medium heat, add the remaining ¼ cup olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the cauliflower florets and leaves, and season with the salt and red pepper flakes. Cook, tossing occasionally, until the cauliflower is caramelized, about 10 minutes.
Push the cauliflower to the side, and make a hot spot in the middle of the pan. Add the tomato paste and cook and stir in that hot spot until toasts and darkens a shade or two, about 1 minute. Stir the tomato paste into the vegetables. Add the white wine, bring to a simmer, and add the raisins and their soaking liquid. Bring back to a simmer, and cook until the cauliflower is very tender, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in the boiling water. When the sauce is ready and the pasta is al dente, remove the pasta with a spider and transfer directly to the simmering sauce. Sprinkle with the parsley and pine nuts, and toss to coat the pasta with the sauce, adding a little pasta water if it seems dry.
Remove the skillet from the heat, sprinkle with the grated cheese, toss, and serve.