Cheesy Baked Pasta With Cauliflower

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I have always been a huge fan of baked pasta dishes as they are always so comforting and homey. Italian comfort food at its best! This dish starts with a basic bechamel sauce that is enhanced with cheese creating a really creamy, rich sauce. The addition of bacon and cauliflower adds flavor, and then the casserole is topped with a crispy, cheesy crust before baking so with every bite you get a combination of creamy pasta and crispy topping.

A great benefit of baked pasta dishes is that they can be prepared and assembled ahead of time and then baked just before you plan to serve them, making them ideal for entertaining. This recipe includes 4 Italian cheeses, crispy bacon bits, and a whole head of cauliflower creating a very hearty dish. If you have kids who are reluctant to eat vegetables, this is one way to sneak some in as the cauliflower becomes coated in the cheese sauce and melts into the casserole.

I used the cheeses that I already had in my refrigerator (leftover from the holidays), but you could also use Talegio or Asiago cheese if you like. Again, I was using up refrigerator items so I included bacon (which was delicious!), but you could easily skip the bacon if you prefer, or instead stir in some cooked, crumbled sausage in place of the bacon.

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Buon Appetito!
Deborah Mele 2014

Cheesy Baked Pasta With Cauliflower

Ingredients:

  • 1 Medium Head Of Cauliflower
  • 6 Strips Of Bacon, Chopped
  • 3 Tablespoons Butter
  • 1/3 Cup All-purpose Flour
  • 3 Cups Milk (I Used 2%)
  • 1 Cup Grated Grated Fontina Cheese
  • 1 Cup Grated Gruyere Cheese
  • 1/2 Cup Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese
  • 1/2 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
  • Salt & Pepper To Taste
  • 3/4 Pound Short Pasta Of Choice

Topping:

  • 1 Cup Dry Breadcrumbs
  • 1/3 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 3 Tablespoons Finely Chopped Parsley
  • Salt & Pepper To Tase
  • 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Directions:

  1. Cut the head of cauliflower into florets and steam until tender, set aside.
  2. In a frying pan, cook the bacon over medium heat until crispy, then drain on paper towels and set aside until needed.
  3. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, then stir in the flour.
  4. Continue to cook, stirring continuously for another minute or two.
  5. Slowly add the milk, whisking continuously as you pour.
  6. Reduce the heat to medium low, and then cook the cook the milk until hot.
  7. Stir in the four cheeses, dried oregano, salt and pepper.
  8. Reduce heat to low, and continue to cook another 10 minutes whisking often, until the sauce has thickened and the cheeses have melted.
  9. While the sauce is cooking, put a large pot of lightly salted water on to boil.
  10. Cook the pasta 3/4 of the directed cooking time then drain and return to the pasta pot.
  11. Pour the sauce into the pot with the pasta along with the cauliflower and bacon and stir to mix.
  12. Pour the mixture into a large, lightly buttered casserole dish and preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  13. In a small bowl, mix together the topping ingredients and sprinkle the topping over the casserole.
  14. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown on top.