If you’re in a bit of a weeknight meal rut, this cauliflower and gnocchi in a miso-lemon butter sauce might just be the answer you’ve been searching for. It’s comes together quickly, but without cutting corners on flavor or texture. If you’re familiar with Italian bagna cauda, the dressing in this recipe is very similar. I even refer to it as “miso bagna cauda” when tossing around dinner ideas with my partner. If you’re not familiar with it, you really should be. Read on for my “sales pitch,” and I’m sorry in advance if you start to drool.
Pillowy gnocchi, tender-crisp veggies, and mouth-wateringly good sauce: The perfect meal equation!
The heart of this recipe is the sauce, but the blend of different textures is what keeps each mouthful interesting. The firmer texture of cauliflower contrasts deliciously with the soft gnocchi. A handful of toasted pistachios adds extra crunch and nutty flavor that complements the nutty miso-based dressing. All of this is bathed in an incredibly punchy sauce of garlicky miso, butter, and lemon.
I think of this sauce as "miso bagna cauda."
The sauce really is what makes this recipe sparkle. It’s essentially a vegetarian bagna cauda. Bagna cauda (bah-nyah cow-dah) translates from Italian to “warm bath.” It’s a super savory garlic- and anchovy-based sauce served with veggies and bread for dipping.
As the name suggests, the sauce is served warm. Raw or cooked veggies are dipped in the “warm bath,” much like you would eat fondue. It’s commonly an antipasto (aka appetizer), but it’s easy to just tuck in and make a whole meal out if it. It’s also delicious when treated as a pasta sauce, as it is here!
Miso is the perfect umami-packed addition to this aromatic sauce.
I actually love the traditional anchovy-based bagna cauda, but I wanted to play around with alternatives for a vegetarian version. The robust savory flavor is the same, but the miso helps the sauce to emulsify into a smoother, creamier texture. I like to add rosemary and a pinch of chili flakes, along with a stiff amount of lemon. The overall effect is intense umami and acidity, in balance but unabashedly BIG.
I’ve most often seen it made with butter, rather than oil. This makes sense given that it seems to have originated in Piedmont, which is one of the most northern regions in Italy. That makes it firmly above the evoo/butter divide! (Read more about that here!) On the other hand, I’ve also seen a combo of both fats, so ultimately the choice is yours.
Savory, punchy miso bagna cauda tastes good on pretty much anything--so get creative with what veggies you use!
Keeping the goal of texture variation in mind, it’s really easy to adapt this recipe to fit whatever you have in your fridge, or whatever is in season. (And for an extra inspirational boost, think about what vegetables you would want to dip in a traditional bagna cauda!) Broccoli is an obvious and excellent alternative to cauliflower. Tender-crisp green beans or snap peas would also be fabulous. Well-seared Brussels sprouts is another terrific match. Even celery, the stalwart and under-appreciated staple of crudités platters, would be perfect!
If you happen to have cashews, those would make an excellent sub for the pistachios. Their buttery, toothsome texture would play off the buttery sauce very, very well.
If you, too, are a big fan of cauliflower, give my recipe for cauliflower steaks with chipotle-cashew salsa a try!
Notes for Success:
If you want to make this vegan, you can use either vegan butter or olive oil. My preference is butter, even vegan butter, since it has a natural sweetness that complements the miso better than grassy olive oil. That being said, olive oil still makes a truly delicious dressing!
If you like the more assertive flavor of fried garlic, feel free to sizzle your garlic a bit longer in the first step of making the sauce. I have written the cues for a light golden color, rather than deeper fried brown, since that’s my preference.
Use whatever gnocchi you can get. Homemade is going to be the most delicious, but frankly this recipe deserves to be in constant rotation and making gnocchi from scratch would get in the way of that. I generally grab the shelf-stable gnocchi, just to conserve fridge space.
I recommend using a milder chili flake, like gochugaru or silk/Aleppo chilies. What you’ll usually find sold as generic “chili flakes” are not only spicier chilies, but they tend to have significant amount of seeds and ribs in each jar, which makes them even spicier. If that’s all you can find, feel free to use them. Just know they will make the sauce very spicy instead of slightly warming. You can also omit the chilies entirely and just add a pinch for garnish.
Pan-Seared Cauliflower and Gnocchi in Lemony Miso-Butter Sauce
- 3 tablespoons butter or vegan butter, divided (2 tablespoons + 1 tablespoon)
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ teaspoon mild red pepper flakes, such as gochugaru or silk/Aleppo chilies (Optional; See Notes)
- 2 tablespoons white miso
- 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest, plus 2 tablespoons juice (About 1 large lemon)
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
- 1 cup lightly packed fresh parsley, chopped (Plus more for garnish)
- 1 package store-bought gnocchi (about 1 pound)
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided (2 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons + 1 tablespoon)
- 1 small head cauliflower (about 2½ pounds), cored and cut into 1-inch florets (~1¾ pound when trimmed)
- ¼ cup shelled unsalted pistachios, toasted and roughly chopped (Plus more for garnish)
- Shaved Parmesan, to serve
- Step 1In a large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter with the garlic and pepper flakes (if using). Once the butter starts sizzling, cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic is softened and just beginning to turn golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add the remaining butter, miso, lemon zest, lemon juice, and rosemary. Stir until smooth, then mix in the parsley. Scrape into a bowl and set aside. Wipe out the skillet.
- Step 2Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cook the gnocchi according to package instructions. Drain well, reserving at least ½ cup of the cooking water.
- Step 3While the water comes to a boil: In the same large skillet over medium-high, heat 2 tablespoons oil until shimmering. Add about half the cauliflower and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp-tender and well-browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, add another 2 tablespoons oil to the pan, and repeat with the remaining cauliflower. Transfer to the bowl and set aside while the gnocchi finishes cooking.
- Step 4Once the gnocchi is cooked and drained, in the same nonstick skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high. When the oil is shimmering, add the cooked, drained gnocchi and let sear without stirring until golden-brown on the bottom, 3 to 5 minutes. Return the cauliflower to the skillet and stir until reheated.
- Step 5Remove from heat and stir in the sauce and 4 tablespoons of the reserved gnocchi cooking water. Add more cooking water as necessary until the sauce is glossy and coats the gnocchi and cauliflower. Mix in the pistachios, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with extra pistachios, extra parsley, and shaved Parmesan.
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Holy wow this was so GOOD!!! Big, bold flavor but not overwhelming. And super easy!!!
Thank you so much for your kind words, Ben!!