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.
This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
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.
Other recipes you might enjoy
Cheesy Baked Spaghetti Squash Noodles
5-Minute Mac and Cheese for One
One-Pot Lemony Kale Noodles
Vegetarian Baked Ziti
Creamy One-Pot Pasta with Peas
Vegetarian Ravioli Bake
Vegetarian Dumpling Soup
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.
How much broccoli do I add at step 9? I couldn't find it in the ingredient list.
Whoops! I used to chop up a head of broccoli and add it to the dish, but decided to leave it out of the updated recipe. Will fix, thanks!
Working from home has given me more time to cook healthy meals (yay!), but I'm beginning to grow weary of the small mountain of pots and pans that have begun to pile up in the sink each day. As a workaround, I've been searching for recipes that I can stretch across the week into several lunches/dinners. Cooking the cauliflower and pasta in the same pot and saving me from extra dishwashing? Be still my HEART.
This was a hit. I appreciate how adaptable it is to whatever you have on hand (I enjoyed scrolling through the comments to see what others had tried-- seaweed pasta and a small broccoli crown plus frozen peas, for me) and how it still tastes like comfort food, despite the amount of veggies crammed in. Will make again!
This is the best! My kids love it and it is so easy and satisfying. On regular dinner rotation in our house. Thanks Katie.
I loved this dish. I added some whole garlic cloves (6 in fact) to the cauliflower as it was cooking and blitzed it all together. I might try adding a couple of (halved) shallots next time. I did not have broccoli so added frozen broad beans and peas. And I did not have bread crumbs so I crushed some mini wheetabix which worked fine (surprisingly). I only added 2 cups of stock but it definitely needs that extra 1/2 cup. Lovely recipe! Many thanks for sharing it. I have leftovers for this evening! mmmm......
So glad you liked it, Rhonda! I think that adding in pretty much any vegetable will do. I love adding diced tomatoes and onions. I never would have thought crushed weetabix would work, but good to know it'll turn out in a pinch!
I completely understand the lack of sunlight ordeal you're going through, being from northern Alaska. I just have to commit to getting outside at some point during our 3 hours of daylight no matter the temperature (often minus 30 to 40 below zero). Thank you so much for this recipe. The entire family, including the committed carnivores, loved this dish. I added tomatoes because that's what I had and they worked great. No one could believe the sauce was primarily cauliflower, which my kids say they don't like!
Oh yeah, you feel my arctic circle winter pain! But the payback in the summer is pretty amazing, isn't it? Glad your family loved this dish so much! I made it without telling my husband the sauce was cauliflower and he totally love it. Such a versatile veggie!
Now this is something that I definitely need to make! Cauliflower cheese and macaroni cheese are syonymous with this season for me and I do love cheese; your lightened up version encorages me to enjoy it in a more virtuous way x
It's a perfect combo of those two dishes, isn't it? Mmmm, I've had cauliflower cheese on the brain lately, will have to make that sometime very soon!
Oh my gosh, I feel so guilty for complaining about our Washington weather recently... This pasta bake looks delicious though, I can't wait to try it!
The weather here has actually been very mild, I'm still biking to work and we haven't had any snow or ice. But a good dumping of snow would really brighten things up so I'm hoping it comes soon!
Lilli @ Sugar and Cinnamon
I know exactly what you mean! This sounds weird but sometimes I feel like that just with really dark sunglasses on. I don't know how it affects my hearing...but that's how it feels! This dish looks delicious 🙂
Right? It's the same but opposite when I'm driving and looking for an address and have to turn the music down so I can see better. Amazing how our senses work together!
Two hours of sunlight?? Now I feel guilty for whining about our early November sunsets in Colorado. This is a great recipe; I made it tonight using some Brussels sprouts that I had in the fridge as a substitute for the broccoli. It's delicious, filling, and definitely made up for the cold tonight.
Love your blog, Katie!
Yep, just two. It's crazy! But that's what we get for living so close to the arctic circle, and there is a tradeoff in the summer when we get the midnight sun. Brussels sprouts sound like a lovely addition to this dish. Still a cruciferous bomb, and lots of vitamin K!
Linda @ Veganosity
I LOVE cauliflower sauce!! I add nutritional food yeast to give it a cheesy flavor. In fact, I just made a similar dish for dinner last week.
2 hours of sunlight!?! I'm sorry. That's rough, but Bali sounds like a dream. 🙂
Cauliflower sauce plus nutritional yeast is a dream, isn't it! And yes, so is Bali. Can't wait!
A wonderful recipe! Thanks! I will be looking to you for guidence here as The Beloved has heart issues and is running on only "1 good coffee filter" as a result of the kidney cancer. Low/no salt, low potassium, not too much protein. Then our naturopath says no dairy , no grains and no suger. And now I'm having a crisis of conscience when look at meat.
So! I am (now more then ever) a fan.
This recipe sounds delicious, and one I want to try soon! When do you add the cheddar cheese? Do you add it to the sauce that you pour over the pasta and broccoli? Thanks, Katie!
Aaaack! It's in the sauce! Corrected now, thanks for the keen eye.
Hi Claire! Sorry to hear there are so many health issues going on. You should check out my friend Kellie's blog (kelliesfoodtoglow.com) she's a cancer nutrition educator and posts wonderful recipes. Sounds like you've got a challenge ahead of you to figure out mealtime with these new restrictions - email me if you want help.
Two hours of sunshine?! That's just insane. I think I'd definitely follow suit and be booking a trip to Bali if I lived in Sweden too.
It is insane! And it's why half of Sweden goes to Thailand for Christmas (seriously, we went there a couple of years ago and there was Swedish signage in many of the places we went) but we thought we'd try something different this year.
Lovely, I love using pureed cauliflower to lighten up a hearty pasta bake! Bali?! Ahhhhh so jealous!
Really looking forward to Bali! It's so necessary to offset the 2 hours of sunlight we've had so far this month! Really hoping for a good dumping of snow to come along and brighten this place up!