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.
Cauliflower with Pasta and Cheese is the Best
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 find cauliflower in the grocery, so don’t wait to make this phenomenal cauliflower and pasta bake. It’s a take on mac & cheese with veggies added.
It’s a hardy enough vegetable casserole to be a meal all by itself but also works great for a side, similar to a broccoli and rice casserole. If you want a lighter cauliflower side dish, try combining cauliflower with spinach and pomegranate.
I really like cauliflower all by itself steamed or raw and especially when roasted with capers or browned butter. But for those of you who aren’t super fans but still want to eat some veggies, this recipe is for you. 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 casserole 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. If pasta’s not your thing, you might like a cheesy cauliflower casserole with sour cream.
If you love veggies and need more ideas, try making broccoli pasta on those nights when you only have 20 minutes to get dinner together.
Reasons to 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.
Ingredients for a Cauliflower Bake
- 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.
Step 1 – Cook the pasta
Boil the pasta, drain and return to the pot.
Step 2 – Sauté the cauliflower
While the pasta is boiling, sauté the cauliflower and then add to the cooked pasta.
Step 3 – Add some flavor
Add sage, capers, garlic, lemons zest and red pepper flakes to the pasta mixture and combine. Then add the grated fontina and mix together.
Step 4 – Add the cheese
Pour half of the pasta into your baking dish and top with dollops of ricotta. Pour the remaining pasta over the top.
Step 5 – Make it crispy
In a small bowl combine the panko, parmesan, oil and parsley and sprinkle over the pasta. Bake until golden brown.
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.
How to Store a Pasta Casserole
Let this cool completely then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. To reheat, place it in the oven at 350º for about 10 minutes.
To Freeze: Let it cool then place in an airtight container. It should stay fresh for 3 months.
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
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Lemony Cauliflower Pasta Bake with Ricotta Cheese
- 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.
- You could substitute Ritz Crackers for the panko topping.