This pasta bake is my variation on cauliflower mac'n'cheese. It's easy and ideal for a weeknight dinner and when you need to batch cook!
The cauliflower's delicate flavour goes well with pepper, ham and cheese and the light bechamel sauce brings this dish beautifully together.
It contains very little meat (ham) but you can skip it altogether to make the meal vegetarian.
What are the main ingredients?
The heart of this dish is, of course, cauliflower.
I use a fresh one, but feel free to use frozen cauliflower florets instead - but remember to add them just before putting the meal in the oven (skip steps 2 and 3 of the recipe) otherwise, the cauliflower would be overcooked and soggy.
Bell pepper is another vegetable I like in this pasta bake. It adds an extra crunch and its mild flavour suits the cauliflower very well.
Any type of pasta will be great in this dish, so feel free to be creative! Fusilli, macaroni, farfalle or gnocchi... they all work in this recipe!
The sauce and the cheese
In order to make this dish lighter, I make it with homemade bechamel sauce.
It is easy to make and only takes several minutes to cook!
I prefer to use low-fat cheese when I can, and so I recommend it for this recipe as well. You'll still achieve great results but with fewer calories!
Both parmesan and Grana Padano add a little bit of a nutty taste to the dish, so I add it on top just before baking. But you can use the same cheese as the one that you used for the bechamel sauce if needed!
How to store this pasta bake?
This cauliflower pasta bake can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 days. Leave to cool down and keep in an airtight container in the fridge.
It can be also frozen. Leave to cool down after cooking, and store in portion-sized airtight containers for up to 3 months. Defrost fully and reheat before serving.
Easy and light cauliflower pasta bake
- 400 g dried pasta
- 400 g (small) cauliflower
- 1 pepper diced
- 100 g ham diced
- 70 g low-fat hard cheese grated (ie. edam, mozzarella or light cheddar)
- 50 g unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoon plain flour
- 800 ml semi-skimmed milk chilled
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- salt and black pepper to taste
- 40 g grated parmesan or Grana Padano
- fresh green salad or pickled vegetables for serving
- Cook the pasta al-dente (to bite) according to instructions on the packet. Drain and set aside into a large oven-proof dish.
- Add 2l of water to a saucepan, set on high heat and bring to boil. Prepare the cauliflower - wash it, and cut into small florets.
- When the water starts to boil, add the cauliflower and cook for 5 mins. Drain and set aside with the pasta.
- Preheat the oven for 200C/180C fan.
- Prepare the bechamel sauce: Add the butter into a saucepan and set on medium heat, wait until it melts, then add the flour, mix it with the butter and fry for 1-2mins. Turn up the heat to medium-high and add the chilled milk. Temperature is important here as it makes the sauce thicken up smoothly, without lumps. Use a whisk and keep stirring for about 5 mins or until the sauce starts to thicken. Lower the heat to medium.
- Season the sauce with nutmeg, add the grated cheese. Keep whisking for another 2-3 mins and set aside.
- Halve and deseed the pepper and cut into small dices (about 2cm). Add it to the casserole dish with the pasta and cauliflower. Chop up the ham and add it to the dish.
- Stir the pasta, veggies and ham and pour over the bechamel sauce. Grate some parmesan on top.
- Season with salt and black pepper and put into the oven for 30 mins or until golden on top.
- Enjoy served with a green salad or your favourite pickled vegetables!