This dish is some wicked good comfort food and the perfect antidote to the dark cold fall nights upon us. While this dish certainly falls under the umbrella of ‘every once in a while,’ when it’s served alongside a spinach salad with pears and feta and a big glass of red, you just can’t go wrong.
Over the summer while vacationing in Ketchum, Idaho, I stumbled into the cutest little shop. I immediately honed in on the cookbook, Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes by Jeanne Kelly. I had some birthday money burning a hole in my pocket, so the cookbook came home with me. It’s the first cookbook I’ve literally read cover to cover.
Kelly’s recipe for baked ziti with cauliflower and cheese caught my eye the very first time I opened the book, but it wasn’t until just this week that I finally made the dish. I altered a few things based on what was in my kitchen, but seriously, make this dish. It is the perfect fall comfort dinner.
Baked Pasta and Cauliflower with Cheese
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 cups cold milk
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 ounces shredded parmesan cheese (plus more for sprinkling at the end)
- 8 ounces Dubliner extra sharp white cheddar, grated
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1 pound pasta (ziti/rigatoni/shells…whatever you like or have on hand)
- 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets, florets sliced into bite size pieces
- 4 slices center cut bacon, cooked, cooled and crumbled
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a 13 x 9 inch baking dish.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent. Stir in garlic. Add the flour and continue stirring for one minute. Add the milk all at once along with the bay leaf. Cook, whisking the mixture until it comes to a boil and thickens, about 5-8 minutes. Add the cheeses, turn the heat to low and simmer until melted. Stir in salt, cayenne, pepper and nutmeg. Remove the bay leaf and season with pepper to taste.
Boil pasta in a heavily salted pot of rapidly boiling water until almost tender. Add the cauliflower to the pasta and cook until cauliflower is barely tender, about 4 minutes. Drain very well and stir drained pasta and cauliflower into the cheese sauce.
Transfer the pasta mixture to the baking dish. Sprinkle with crumbled bacon, fresh parsley and a handful of parmesan cheese. Sprinkle with salt. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover the last five minutes to let the edges brown slightly and make sure the cheese is boiling.
Scarlet gave this meal a hearty two thumbs up. She has subsequently been eating it now for three days straight. Aaron and I both stood at the stove and ate second helpings straight from the pan. The boys ate it but didn’t rave. I’m choosing to ignore their neutrality.