This Cheesy Cauliflower Bake is a delicious, comforting riff on healthy mac and cheese. Made with wholegrain pasta, cauliflower purée replaces much of the cheese for a lightened up baked pasta recipe.
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Who's in the mood for some cozy, carby, cheesy comfort food?!
You're definitely in the right place, because today we're whipping up a big batch of this Cheesy Cauliflower Bake.
Much like my Pumpkin Mac and Cheese recipe, this is a healthy riff on a classic Mac and Cheese, where we'll be replacing part of the cheese with cauliflower purée to lighten things up. But if you think we're compromising on flavour or on gooey, cheesy goodness, you better think again.
Made with wholegrain pasta, a super flavourful cauliflower cheese sauce, and a crispy panko lid, this is the lightened up comfort food pasta dish of your dreams.
What's in this recipe?
Nothing but nourishing, easy-to-find ingredients, many of which you may already have on hand. Here's what you'll need to make this recipe:
- Cauliflower --> This guy's kinda the star of the show.
- Pasta --> I used wholegrain spelt pasta, but any pasta shape you have on hand is totally fine
- Vegetable Broth --> Store bought is totes fine.
- Olive oil --> Calling the EVOO into service.
- Grated cheese --> I prefer a nice strong cheddar to carry the flavour since we're using less of it.
- Dijon mustard --> Bringing some flavour!
- Smoked paprika --> Optional, but delicious.
- Parmesan --> More cheese for the lid.
- Panko breadcrumbs --> For a nice crispy topping.
One essential component of this recipe is a food processor or blender to bring the cauliflower cheese sauce together. I've used my trusty food processor most often when making this recipe, but lately I've tried making the sauce in my high-speed blender and it does a great job as well.
Otherwise you'll need a nice big pot to boil the cauliflower and pasta in, and a casserole dish for baking. Pretty standard stuff.
How to make this recipe:
You'll find detailed instructions in the printable recipe card at the end of this post, and you can check out the video below to see how we make our Cheesy Cauliflower Bake recipe. Let's go through it step-by-step!
First up, you're going to want to turn your oven on to 200°C / 400°F to pre-heat while you're making the sauce. Butter your casserole dish.
Step 1: (above) Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Salt it generously, and then add the cauliflower and cook until it's very tender.
Step 2: Remove the cauliflower with a slotted spoon and place into your blender or food processor.
Step 3: (above) Add the pasta to the same water you used for the cauliflower, and boil until al dente.
While the pasta is cooking, make your sauce.
Step 4: Add the shredded cheese, Dijon, smoked paprika, olive oil, salt, pepper, and most of the vegetable broth to the cauliflower.
Step 5: Blend until smooth. If necessary, add the remaining broth to thin out the sauce.
Step 6: Drain the pasta, and add to the greased casserole dish.
Step 7: (above) Pour the cauliflower cheese sauce over the pasta, and stir to combine.
Step 8: Scatter the panko bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese over the top.
Step 9: Place into the oven, and bake until the sauce is bubbling and the breadcrumb topping is golden brown.
Step 10: Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before serving - about 10 minutes.
That's it! You're done!
Pro tips / recipe notes:
Choose a good cheese. Since we're cutting the amount of cheese pretty dramatically from a traditional mac and cheese recipe, choosing a nice sharp cheddar with a lot of flavour will go a long way.
It may look like a LOT of sauce. This is correct. The pasta will soak up quite a lot of it while baking, and the dish will end up too dry if you don't use it all.
Make sure the sauce is well-seasoned! The sauce is what's bringing the flavour to this dish, so be sure to take the time to taste it and adjust the seasonings if necessary.
Want to make this recipe ahead of time? The cauliflower cheese sauce can be made up to a day ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator. You can also fully assemble the Cheesy Cauliflower Bake and refrigerate, covered, overnight. Just add about 10 minutes to the baking time if you're starting from a cold dish.
Want to make this recipe gluten-free? Just substitute your favourite gluten-free pasta and breadcrumbs.
Want to make this recipe vegan? Since this recipe doesn't call for a lot of cheese, you might try your favourite vegan shredded cheese product in place of the cheddar. Alternately, give this Vegan Mac and Cheese recipe from Connoisseurus Veg a try!
Is Cauliflower Healthy?
It sure is!
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.
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Cheesy Cauliflower Bake
- 1 medium cauliflower rinsed, cored, and cut into chunks
- 12 ounces whole wheat pasta shapes
- 2 ½ cups vegetable broth
- 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ¾ cup grated cheddar cheese or other strong cheese
- 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- fine grain sea salt to taste
- 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 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.
- Blend the cooked cauliflower with 2 cups of vegetable stock, 2 tablespoons olive oil, ¾ cup shredded cheddar cheese, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon 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. 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 ¼ cup Parmesan cheese and ½ cup 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.
- Nutrition values are an estimate only.
- Choose a good cheese. Since we're cutting the amount of cheese pretty dramatically from a traditional mac and cheese recipe, choosing a nice sharp cheddar with a lot of flavour will go a long way.
- It may look like a LOT of sauce. This is correct. The pasta will soak up quite a lot of it while baking, and the dish will end up too dry if you don't use it all.
- Make sure the sauce is well-seasoned! The sauce is what's bringing the flavour to this dish, so be sure to take the time to taste it and adjust the seasonings if necessary.
- Want to make this recipe ahead of time? The cauliflower cheese sauce can be made up to a day ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator. You can also fully assemble the Cheesy Cauliflower Bake and refrigerate, covered, overnight. Just add about 10 minutes to the baking time if you're starting from a cold dish.
- Want to make this recipe gluten-free? Just substitute your favourite gluten-free pasta and breadcrumbs.
- Want to make this recipe vegan? Since this recipe doesn't call for a lot of cheese, you might try your favourite vegan shredded cheese product in place of the cheddar.
This post was originally published on November 17, 2014. It was re-tested, edited, and updated with new photos and video on September 21, 2021.