Saturday, September 22, 2012

Cheddar-Cauliflower Pasta Bake

I made this pasta dish for a special farewell dinner.  Tim and I found our current apartment through a couple of good friends of ours who were moving out.  So, before they skipped town for good, we definitely had to have them over and show them what we'd done with the place.  This baked pasta is a great dish for enjoying with friends - simple and homey with a little bit of a twist.  Your usual mac and cheese is amped up with creme fraiche and an awesome crispy pancetta-breadcrumb topping.  Plus, there's cauliflower mixed in with the pasta to make everything a little healthier.  Leftovers kept well if you end up with extra at the end of the night.  My main complaint about this dish was that it made so many dirty dishes.  It comes from a Jamie Oliver cookbook that's aimed at 30 minute meals, and the estimated time to make the dish is actually fairly accurate.  However, a 30 minute meal doesn't save all that much time if it creates 45 minutes worth of dishes to wash.  Then again, the pasta bake was totally delicious, so I would make this again (maybe with a tag-team dish washer while cooking!)

Cheddar-Cauliflower Pasta Bake (adapted from Jamie Oliver)
Serves 6

8 thin slices pancetta
1 medium head of cauliflower
1 pound dried macaroni or other smallish dried pasta
Olive oil
9 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
4 thick slices of country bread
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves picked off of the stems
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup creme fraiche
Salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese, to serve

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Fill an electric kettle with water and put it on to boil.  Fit a food processor with the grating attachment.
2. Lay the pancetta in a roasting pan (about 9x13 inches).  Place it on the top shelf of the oven.
3. Trim the cauliflower and cut it into quarters.  Place it a large saucepan, core down, and then pour the dried pasta over.  Cover with boiling water, filling and reboiling the kettle if necessary.  Season with salt, drizzle with a little oil, and give everything a stir to make sure everything is submerged in water.  Cook according to the pasta's package instructions.
4. Grate the cheese in the food processor and then transfer to a bowl.  Change to the standard blade attachment, and then add in the pancetta (now crispy), along with the bread, rosemary leaves, and a good drizzle of olive oil.  Process to a coarse breadcrumb consistency.
5. Put a colander over a large bowl to catch the pasta water, and then drain the pasta and cauliflower.  Return to the pot and break up the cauliflower with tongs or a potato masher.  Add in 1-2/3 cups of the pasta water, the garlic, the creme fraiche, and the grated Cheddar.  Stir to combine.  Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.
6. Spread into the same roasting pan you used for the pancetta.  Scatter the breadcrumbs on top, and then bake on the top shelf of the oven until golden and bubbling, about 8 minutes or so.  Serve sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.

Earlier this month, Tim and I visited our friends in their new home, Chicago! Here I am with Adelina in Millennium Park.


  1. Woo hoo! Go, Chicago!

  2. This sounds and looks delicious, Sara! I am really surprised by the technique, i.e. NO bechamel sauce. That saves an entire step. I laughed about the mound of dishes. I can't seem to cook anything without using every pan and utensil in the kitchen. :-) ...Susan

  3. This looks delicious. Holy dish-washing though. That really is a ton of dishes. Why do some recipes do that to us?! Definitely a great idea to have someone tag team with you and wash as you cook for meals like this one. I'm thinking it would be worth the dishes for a treat like this!