4 servings (makes about 6 1/2 cups)
This pasta is a lighter take on a particular style of the classic pasta e patate - a dish of pasta with potatoes that appears in variations throughout Italy - in which the potatoes break down partially or completely into a creamy sauce. Here, cauliflower takes the place of some of the potatoes for a dish that is still hearty but not quite so rib-sticking.
The recipe is easily halved or quartered, although depending on the size of your pot, you may need to use more water proportionally.
MAKE AHEAD: This dish is best made right before serving, but leftovers may be reheated in a heavy pot over low heat or in a 350-degree oven in a covered casserole. The pasta will have absorbed most of the liquid, so add only enough water to make the dish a little soupy, taste again for seasoning, and stir periodically as it heats through.
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more as needed
1/2 small head cauliflower, about 8 ounces, florets and stems cut into bite-size pieces (about 2 cups)
225g yellow-fleshed potatoes, peeled and cut into 1.5cm chunks
5 cups water, plus more as needed
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt, or more as needed
340g dried pasta, preferably a small shape such as gnocchette, ditalini, orecchiette or cavatelli
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley (from 15 to 20 sprigs)
Heat the oil in a large, heavy, wide-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes; cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes, until the garlic is golden and fragrant but has not browned. Stir in the cauliflower and potatoes until evenly coated, then cook for 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the water and salt; cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 10 minutes, so the cauliflower softens a bit.
Stir in the pasta; cook until al dente, stirring regularly to keep the pasta from sticking and adjusting the heat as needed to maintain a minimum of bubbling. Depending on the pasta variety, the cooking time may take about 5 minutes longer than indicated on the package, so begin tasting the pasta once the suggested cooking time has elapsed. After about 10 minutes, the potatoes and the cauliflower should have begun to fall apart; use the back of a spoon to mash any large bits against the side of the pot to break them apart into the sauce. You can leave as much or little texture as you like.
The resulting dish should be thick; if the mixture seems too dry, add a little water to reach the desired texture, keeping in mind the pasta will continue to absorb liquid as it cools. Once the pasta is cooked through but still firm, add the parsley. Taste and add more salt and/or crushed red pepper flakes, as needed. Cover and let the pasta rest for 2 to 3 minutes before serving.