This creamy cauliflower pasta bake is a lightened up version of a classic mac and cheese.
The other day my favourite swimming goggles snapped just as I was getting ready to dive into the pool. I borrowed a pair from the lost and found, and then put my other pair of goggles into my swim bag.
My other pair of goggles, though exactly the same, are much darker, and I usually only use them in the summer when I swim in the outdoor pool. As soon as I dove into the indoor pool wearing them last week I thought, ohhhh, this isn’t going to work. They’re so dark I feel like I don’t know where I am. So dark it was almost panic inducing. So dark that I felt like I couldn’t hear, which sounds like a crazy thing to say about not being able to see well under water, but when I told Paul he knew exactly what I meant.
I felt like I couldn’t do my workout. That I was so disoriented that if I put on my hand paddles I might smash into someone with them. It was such a bizarre feeling, and all I could do was a short and gentle swim and then get out of the dark and into the light.
It’s a little bit like the disorienting darkness of the Swedish winter. It catches me by surprise each year how wonky it makes me feel, and this year is apparently on track for record breaking darkness: so far this November we’ve had just two hours of sunlight. Two. Hours. Of. Sunlight.
So I’ve ordered a new pair of my favourite goggles, have been burning through my own body weight in tea lights, and we’ve done like the Swedes and booked a sunny winter getaway – Paul and I are heading to Bali for Christmas. And increasingly we’re reaching for comfort food to bring a little warmth and light into our lives.
This pasta bake is just the kind of thing for these dark and dreary days. It’s warm, creamy, and soul satisfying. Yet it’s full of good thing. Whole grain spelt pasta. A sauce that’s more cauliflower than anything else. And that lovely crispy panko crust on top.
I added florets of broccoli before baking, which makes this into a cruciferous vegetable bomb when you consider the entire head of cauliflower already in there. If you’re not into broccoli you could leave it out, or sub in some chopped tomatoes or chunks of butternut squash instead. And if you’re dealing with picky eaters and worried they’ll be on to your cauliflower sauce trick, well, maybe they will and maybe they won’t be. I didn’t tell Paul what was in this and he loved it, so if that’s any indication you should be in good shape.
Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable, in the same family as broccoli, kale, and cabbage, with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory health benefits. Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate. It is a great source of vitamin B5, potassium, dietary fiber, and a good source of protein, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamins B1-3, and iron.
- 1 medium cauliflower, rinsed, cored, and cut into chunks
- 300g spelt or whole wheat pasta shells
- 2 ½ cups vegetable stock
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- ¾ cup grated cheddar cheese (or other strong cheese)
- 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 head broccoli, broken down into small florets
- ¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
- ½ cup Panko bread crumbs
- Preheat your oven to 200°C / 400°F. Butter a 9-inch baking dish.
- Bring a large pot of water to the boil, and salt it generously. This is the water you’ll cook both the cauliflower and the pasta in, so don’t toss it out between uses!
- Add the cauliflower to the boiling water and cook until it is very tender, about 15 minutes.
- Remove the cauliflower from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and place into a blender or food processor.
- Add the pasta shells to the boiling water (top up the water if necessary) and cook until it’s about half way done (it’ll finish cooking in the oven). Drain the pasta and place into the prepared baking dish along with the broccoli florets.
- Blend the cooked cauliflower with 2 cups of vegetable stock, the olive oil, cheddar cheese, Dijon mustard, smoked paprika, and some freshly cracked black pepper. If the sauce seems too thick you can add the remaining ½ cup of vegetable stock.
- Taste the sauce, and adjust the seasonings if necessary.
- Pour the sauce over the pasta and broccoli. It may seem like a LOT of sauce, but it will thicken as it cooks and the pasta will absorb some as well.
- Sprinkle the top with Parmesan cheese and Panko bread crumbs.
- Place the baking dish in the oven and bake until the pasta is bubbling and the bread crumbs are golden brown, about 20 minutes.
- Serve hot.
-Recipe adapted ever so slightly from the Food Matters Cookbook.