From Le Crocodile chef Jake Leiber:
Linguine with cherry tomatoes and capers is by far my favorite meal that my mother prepared for me growing up. It’s always been there; it’s my ultimate comfort food. Within my group of close friends, it’s become a go-to for date night, and it tickles me every time I get a call asking, “what was that recipe for Nad’s pasta again? You know, the one with the capers?” (My mother’s name is Nadia). The beauty is that the recipe is so simple, any of those goons can make it — and have, many times through the years. Nadia always serves it with a whole head of roasted cauliflower. We would pull apart the cauliflower and toss it into our bowls, crispy and oily, a sprinkle of coarsely grated parm pushed through an old, dull box grater as the only garnish. It’s great for parties, but it’s perfect enjoyed by two at a table lit by a single candle, as my mother and I have enjoyed it together countless times.
1 small head of cauliflower (if you’re going to do it right)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 Vidalia onion, diced (Nad only cooks with Vidalias because they’re sweet)
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 handful of clean capers (generous)
1 box of pasta (a long noodle, preferably linguine or spaghetti)
3 pints of cherry tomatoes, cut in half (any mix will do but we always just used red; I love the addition of sungolds)
2 pinches chile flakes
2 cups plus thickly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Welcomed on occasion but not at all essential: A handful of basil or chopped parsley.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the head of cauliflower into a baking dish, drizzle generously with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Once the oven is at temp, toss in the cauliflower and roast for about an hour or until it is nicely browned. The cauliflower takes the most time and can be served at any temperature, but room temperature is ideal, so feel free to do it in advance.
Place a large pot of water with a few handfuls of salt on the stove to boil. Coat generously with oil the bottom of a large wide saucepan (preferably with low-ish walls), and apply medium heat. Before the oil begins to smoke, add the onions and begin to sweat, after a minute or so add the garlic. After another 2-3 minutes, add the capers. At this point turn the heat up a bit and kind of fry the capers, until fragrant. You want the onions and garlic to be soft but not to disappear entirely into the sauce.
When the base of onions, garlic, and capers are happily married, slide in the halved tomatoes and the chili flakes and cook over medium high heat. The goal is for the tomatoes to break down slightly so that the juices release and reduce a bit, becoming sweet, but not so much that they become a single, wet, stew-y sauce (the low-walled pan helps the water evaporate more quickly). Every ingredient should maintain its distinct character. The sauce is done when the tomatoes are wilted but slightly plump, and the mass is slightly broken and oily. Adjust with salt, but not too much, as Nadia always says, “Everyone can add their own salt at the table, and capers are salty enough!” Set aside, warm on the range is ideal.
Cook the noodles to your desired degree of doneness, about 9 to 12 minutes. Strain, reserving some of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the warm sauce and toss off heat, adding pasta water if necessary until everything is well coated. Like the cauliflower, this pasta is really best enjoyed warm to room temperature but certainly not piping hot.
Divide the pasta into bowls, tear a few florets of cauliflower and throw them in, and finish with a generous handful of the coarsely grated cheese. Hopefully you’ll have some pasta and cauliflower left over. I recommend eating it cold in front of the open refrigerator as I did as a young cook living at home with his mother.