Creamy cauliflower pasta bake has surprise pockets of ricotta cheese with a crunchy topping that is comfort food at its best. A bit of lemon and capers add just the right touch for a side dish or main vegetarian meal.
During the winter months, cauliflower can be one of the few vegetables that tastes good, the growing season is from October through December in NC. However, you can almost always get cauliflower in the grocery, so don’t wait to make this phenomenal cauliflower and pasta bake.
It’s hardy enough to be a meal all by itself but also works great for a side. If you want a lighter side, try combining cauliflower with spinach and pomegranate.
I really enjoy cauliflower all by itself steamed or raw but especially when roasted with capers or browned butter. For this recipe you’ll sauté it first. This is based on one of Ina Garten’s recipes that has been around for a long time. It has several unusual ingredients that when combined make this one of our favorite side dish recipes.
The sage and lemon are a bit unusual for a baked pasta dish but I think that’s why we like it so much. It freshens it up so that it doesn’t feel as heavy as a more traditional macaroni and cheese recipe.
Why you’ll love cauliflower pasta
- A delicious way to incorporate cauliflower into a meal.
- This can be served as a hearty vegetarian meal or a side dish – either way, it’s delicious.
- There’s a unique ingredient combination in this dish you wouldn’t expect but put together in one baked meal, it’s amazing.
- You’ve got Meatless Monday covered with this pasta dish.
What you’ll need
- Orecchiette pasta – round, concave pasta that are shaped like “little ears”, substitute shells if you prefer.
- Fresh cauliflower – you can buy the pre-cut or a whole head and cut up yourself
- Capers – these unripened flower buds, give a burst of flavor to dishes
- Fresh sage – a classic fall and winter herb
- Lemon zest – adds just the right amount of flavor combined with the cheese and spice
- Cheeses: Fontina, Ricotta and Parmesan – these are my preferred cheeses but you can use what you have on hand, don’t substitute the ricotta though.
- Panko crumbs – provides a delicious crunch on top
- Garlic – fresh garlic along with fresh lemon bring out the best in this dish
- Parsley – dice fresh parsley as you are about to serve
How do you make a cauliflower pasta bake
While this has several ingredients, it doesn’t take long to put this all together, about 20 minutes or so.
Boil the pasta, drain and return to the pot.
While the pasta is boiling, sauté the cauliflower and then add to the cooked pasta.
Add sage, capers, garlic, lemons zest and red pepper flakes to the pasta mixture and combine. Then add the grated fontina and mix together.
Pour half of the pasta into your baking dish and top with dollops of ricotta. Pour the remaining pasta over the top.
In a small bowl combine the panko, parmesan, oil and parsley and sprinkle over the pasta. Bake until golden brown
- This is not a spicy dish but if you love spice, you can easily add more red pepper flakes for a full teaspoon.
- If you want to add some protein, shredded chicken or diced ham would make a perfect addition.
- You can substitute gluten free pasta for your dish.
- Adding some chopped toasted walnuts to the panko mixture.
You’re going to love the pockets of cheese that are so unexpected. These are formed by dolloping ricotta between your layers of cauliflower and pasta, much like a lasagna. If you don’t love cauliflower this might be just the thing for you because the other flavors almost mask the cauliflower. A sneaky way to get in some extra vegetables.
FAQs and tips
There are a lot of health benefits to adding cauliflower in your diet. They are full of nutrients, high in fiber and it’s a great alternative to grains and legumes.
This is a heavy cheese pasta dish so while you have used vegetables as the base, the cheese makes it a hearty dish that’s full of flavor.
Any leftover cauliflower pasta can be placed in an airtight container and placed in the refrigerator up to 5 days. You can also freeze it and warm up in the oven.
Capers are immature buds from the capparis shrubs on the Italian island of Pantelleria. They are common on Italian, Middle Eastern and North African dishes. These little buds are impressive looking and delicious in healthy Middle Eastern meals, either in a sauce or baked in with the meal. I use them in several other dishes on my site, including this salmon with anchovy butter recipe.
What can you serve with cheesy baked pasta
More pasta dishes you’ll love
- Mac & cheese
- Pasta with Italian sausage
- Shrimp and corn carbonara
- Pasta alla vodka
- Southwest spaghetti
- Pasta with artichokes
If you loved this recipe, give it a star ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating! Also, snap a picture of your finished dish and share it with me on Instagram using the hashtag #butterandbaggage and tagging me @butterandbaggage.
Cauliflower Pasta Bake Recipe
- 4 cups Orecchiette pasta/shells ¾ lb
- 3 Tablespoons olive oil divided
- 1 head cauliflower cut into small florets
- 1 tablespoons fresh sage chopped
- 2 tablespoons capers drained
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 2 cups fontina cheese 8 ounces
- 1 cup whole milk ricotta
- ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
- ½ cup Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley chopped
- Preheat oven to 400º.
- Bring salted water to a boil and add pasta. Cook until al dente. Drain and return pasta to the pot.
- While pasta is cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Saute a layer of cauliflower tossing occasionally until lightly brown and slightly soft, about 5 minutes. Remove and add to the cooked pasta.
- Add Sage, capers, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper to the pot. Stir to combine. Add grated fontina and transfer half of the mixture to a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Spoon ricotta onto the mixture by tablespoons and then spoon the remaining pasta over the ricotta.
- In a small bowl, combine panko, parmesan, parsley and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle over pasta mixture.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.
Barbara’s Tips + Notes
- This is not a spicy dish but if you love spice, you can easily add some more red pepper flakes.
- If you want to add some protein, shredded chicken would make a perfect addition.
- You can substitute gluten free pasta for your dish.
- Try adding some chopped toasted walnuts with the panko mixture.