I have always been a huge fan of baked pasta dishes as they are so satisfying and homey. Italian comfort food at its best in my opinion! This dish starts with a basic bechamel sauce that is enhanced with cheese creating a 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.
Despite the fact that I love baked pasta dishes, my husband isn’t so fond of them as the pasta can get mushy if you aren’t careful. To get around this, I find if I boil the pasta half the time recommended on the package, then stop the cooking process by running cold water over the partially cooked pasta, once baked, the pasta will remain “al dente.” You will need a little extra sauce by preparing the pasta this way as it will absorb some of the sauce as it finishes cooking.
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 kinds of cheese, 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. If your kids are extra picky, you could even take a cup of sauce and puree it with the cauliflower before mixing it before baking.
I used the cheeses that I already had in my refrigerator, but you could also use Taleggio, Fontina, Gruyere, 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.
- 1 Medium Head Of Cauliflower
- 6 Strips Of Bacon, Chopped
- 4 Tablespoons Butter
- 1/3 Cup All-purpose Flour
- 3 1/2 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
- 1 Cup Dry Breadcrumbs
- 1/3 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
- 3 Tablespoons Finely Chopped Parsley
- Salt & Pepper To Tase
- 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- Cut the head of cauliflower into florets and steam until tender, set aside.
- In a frying pan, cook the bacon over medium heat until crispy, then drain on paper towels and set aside until needed.
- In a heavy bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, then stir in the flour.
- Continue to cook, stirring continuously for another minute or two.
- Slowly add the milk, whisking continuously as you pour.
- Reduce the heat to medium low, and then cook the cook the milk until hot.
- Stir in the four cheeses, dried oregano, salt and pepper.
- Reduce heat to low, and continue to cook another 10 minutes whisking often, until the sauce has thickened and the cheese has melted.
- While the sauce is cooking, put a large pot of lightly salted water on to boil.
- Cook the pasta 1/2 of the directed cooking time then drain and rinse in cold water.
- Once cooled, return the pasta to the pot, then pour the sauce into the pot along with the cauliflower and bacon and stir to mix.
- Pour the mixture into a large, lightly buttered casserole dish and preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- In a small bowl, mix together the topping ingredients and sprinkle the topping over the casserole.
- Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown on top.