CAULIFLOWER PASTA BAKE: A Make-Ahead Casserole…or Not!

cauliflower pasta casserole text

Cauliflower seems to be very popular now. So as a gal who likes to keep up with the trends, I decided to post a cauliflower casserole I’ve been making for years. Like most casseroles, this one can be prepared ahead of time and baked before dinner-time.

Note:  I included the recipe for the optional crumb topping. To be honest, I prefer no topping, but my husband loves it. If you find yourself in this dilemma, a compromise can be reached by serving the topping in a bowl and letting crumb-lovers sprinkle it on their own servings.

CAULIFLOWER PASTA BAKE

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk (any kind – I use nonfat)
  • 1 T Dijon mustard
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 2 cups onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped (or 2 tsp dried – but fresh is best!)
  • 1/2 head of cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 cups chopped Roma or cherry tomatoes
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 1/2 lb pasta (I prefer mini-penne, but it’s hard to fine, so I often use small elbows)
  • 5 oz Mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup (1 1/2 oz) Parmesan cheese, grated
  • optional: seasoned bread crumbs (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 375º Fahrenheit.

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Turn off heat and add flour, making a smooth paste. (Make sure you smash out any lumps – this is your only chance to do so.) Pour in milk, turn on heat to medium, and stir until sauce thickens – about 5 minutes. Stir in Dijon, nutmeg, salt, and black pepper. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside. cauliflower pasta casserole5In a 12″ skillet over medium/high, heat oil. Add onions and sauté until translucent, but not browned – about 5 minutes. Turn off heat and add in garlic and basil, stirring to bloom by using residual heat from the hot skillet.cauliflower pasta casserole4 Turn heat to medium/high and add in cauliflower. Sauté for 5 minutes. cauliflower pasta casserole2Add in the tomatoes and continue to cook until cauliflower is tender – about 10 minutes. cauliflower pasta casserole1In a saucepot, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add in 1 T salt and the pasta. Cook until slightly under-done. Drain. cauliflower pasta casserole10In the now-empty saucepot, combine the white sauce, cauliflower mixture, pasta, and lemon juice. cauliflower pasta casserole8Pour half into a casserole dish. Sprinkle on half of Mozzarella and half of Parmesan. cauliflower pasta casserole9Cover with the remaining pasta mixture and top with the remaining cheeses. cauliflower pasta casserole7Cover and bake at 375º Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Remove lid and cook 10 minutes longer, if covering with crumb topping. Evenly sprinkle topping over top. Return to oven, uncovered, and bake another 5 minutes. cauliflower pasta casserole12If not covering with topping, bake uncovered for 15 minutes.cauliflower pasta casserole13Let set 15 minutes before serving – it’s super hot! Pass around Seasoned Breadcrumbs, if desired.

SEASONED BREADCRUMBS – makes 1/2 cup

  • 1/2 cup panko crumbs
  • 1½ T olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp dried basil
  • 1/8 tsp onion powder
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 3 T Parmesan cheese, grated

In a small skillet combine the panko, olive oil, oregano, basil, onion powder, garlic powder and salt. Stirring constantly, sauté mixture over medium until crumbs are browned. (You can crank up the heat to medium/high, but keep an eye on it.) cauliflower pasta casserole6Remove from heat and pour into a bowl. Stir in Parmesan when crumbs are cooled.cauliflower pasta casserole14

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