I know it’s only a few days before Valentine’s Day, so you’re probably wondering why I’m posting a recipe for Baked Creamy Cauliflower Pasta. It’s not exactly a romantic meal. It’s more like a family, weekday meal that’s easy to throw together. The reason for such a pragmatic dish this week is that I need some normalcy. These past few weeks have been off kilter since we’ve been buried in snow here in Boston. About 5 feet of snow.
For the past 3 weeks there’s been a winter storm every Monday, shutting down roads and closing schools. It’s pretty unreal. And it’s thrown us completely off of our routine and schedule. So, that’s why instead of posting a lavish meal for Valentine’s Day, I opted for some healthier comfort food in the form of this Baked Creamy Cauliflower Pasta.
My youngest daughter LOVES fettuccine alfredo. She requests it for every special occasion (and probably once a week for dinner). While I’m the first to say that fettuccine alfredo is delicious and easy to make, it is definitely a special occasion dish because it isn’t exactly light This Baked Creamy Cauliflower Pasta isn’t fettuccine alfredo, but it is creamy, delicious, and nutritional comfort food at its best.
The pasta is packed with cauliflower. It contains diary (low fat milk and cheese), but the bulk of the creaminess comes from the cauliflower.
I have to admit that the first time I made this I was a little nervous. My kids love cauliflower (especially when it’s raw), but I wasn’t sure how they’d react to it cooked and creamed. While I was steaming the cauliflower I experienced a serious moment of doubt because I worried the cauliflower taste would overwhelm the entire dish. But after mixing all of the ingredients together before putting it in the oven, I tasted it, and the cauliflower taste was mild and pleasant. The cheese and thyme definitely balance out the dish. And guess what, my kids and my non-vegetable eating husband love it! It’s the perfect healthy, nutritious comfort food.
While all these storms have been terribly inconvenient, I have to say that it’s actually made me feel very grateful. My family and I have a warm, comfortable, spacious home where we can shelter ourselves in comfort during the storm. We are all healthy and safe. Since we love spending time together, so we’ve taken the opportunity to craft, bake, play, build with blocks and Legos our hearts out over the past few weeks. And that is nothing I’d every complain about!
- 4 cups cauliflower florets, cut to about 1½ inches in size (I used 1 small cauliflower head)
- 1 medium yellow onion, sliced
- 3 medium garlic cloves, peeled
- sea salt or table salt
- 14 ounces penne pasta (I used one box of Barilla Protein Plus pasta because it is made with chickpeas, lentils, flax seeds, naturally providing protein, fiber, and omega 3 fatty acids.)
- 2 cups, 2% milk
- 1 tsp dried mustard
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1¼ tsp dried thyme
- 3 oz sharp cheddar, grated (a generous ½ cup)
- 6 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (about 1½ cups)
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F with the oven rack in the center of the oven.
- Place the cauliflower, onion, and garlic in a steamer basket set over about 1 inch of boiling water in a 6 to 8 quart pot.
- Cover and steam until the cauliflower is tender, about 15 minutes.
- Once tender, remove the basket from above the steam, and place in a 3 quart sauce pan.
- While the cauliflower cools slightly, begin to boil water for the pasta. Boil the pasta according to the directions on the package, generously salting the water before placing the pasta in the boiling water.
- As the pasta cooks, add 1 cup of the milk, mustard, 1 tsp salt, and ½ tsp pepper to the steamed cauliflower, onions and garlic. Using an immersion blender, blend the mixture until smooth.
- Once smooth, add the remaining cup of milk and thyme. Cook over medium-low heat for about 3 minutes.
- In a small bowl, mix the cheeses.
- Reserve ½ cup of the cheese mixture. Combine the balance of the cheese with the cauliflower. Mix until melted.
- When the pasta is cooked, drain it, and mix it into the cauliflower.
- Transfer the pasta and sauce into an 8 inch baking dish.
- Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.
- Bake until the pasta is heated through and the cheese is brown on top, about 20 to 30 minutes.
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