All the deliciousness of a classic cauliflower cheese turned into the most incredible pasta bake!
Cauliflower cheese is one of my all-time favourite side dishes. I mean, when you slather most foods in cheese and bake it, you’re on to a winner. But cauliflower just takes on all that deliciousness so well. The only thing better than cauliflower cheese though? Cauliflower cheese pasta bake. Follow me…
Put the pot of boiling water away, put the steamer away, put it all away. Roasting cauliflower is the superior method and here’s why:
- When you boil/steam cauliflower it tends to cling on to the water. It then releases it when baked, resulting in a watery pasta bake.
- The caramelization/light charring from roasting develops extra flavour, which you can’t get by boiling/steaming!
I typically roast it in the baking dish I’m using for the pasta bake itself, just for less washing up. You can use a separate tray if you’d prefer, but the main thing to make sure the cauliflower is somewhat spaced out. If it’s all crammed on top of each other it’s just going to steam instead of roast. The photo below is right at the limit of what you want spacing-wise.
Process shot: coat cauliflower in oil, salt & pepper (photo 1), roast (photo 2).
Cauliflower Cheese Sauce
Okay, roasted cauliflower is great and all. But quite frankly, bring on the cheese. We’re going to be making a classic cheese sauce with butter, flour, milk and cheese, but we’re going to sub some of the milk out for vegetable stock. Just to add some depth of flavour.
What kind of cheese to use?
Here I use Gruyere and Cheddar. Gruyere has a gorgeous sweet and nutty flavour that pairs beautifully with creamy sauces AND cauliflower.
Cheese Sauce Seasoning
Just for a little extra ‘umph’, we’re going to add in some onion & garlic powder, with some white pepper and nutmeg. Alongside those flavour boosters, I love adding in some dijon mustard too.
Process shots: melt butter (photo 1), add flour (photo 2), stir (photo 3), whisk in milk & stock (photo 4), stir in cheese (photo 5), stir in seasoning & dijon (photo 6).
Cauliflower Cheese Pasta
When it comes to pasta, I love using Conchiglie. Mainly because the sauce gets caught inside, but realistically you can use any kind of short-cut pasta. The main thing is that you only cook it until al dente. Reason being is that it’ll continue cooking whilst in the oven, so if you cook your pasta to packet instruction it’s going to be too soft and sludgy once it’s out of the oven.
Pasta Bake Topping
Now you could finish the pasta with some sort of crumb topping before baking, but since we’re doing it cauliflower cheese style, it’d be rude not to finish with more cheese. You’ll only need to roughly cover the top, some exposed pasta works nicely because it goes crispy. Once baked, I love finishing with crispy bacon (do I need to justify this!?). I recommend cooking this at the same time as the pasta bake, so it’s perfectly crisp when ready to serve.
Process shots: stir in pasta (photo 1), stir in cauliflower (photo 2), add to baking dish (photo 3), top with cheese (photo 4), bake (photo 5), top with bacon (photo 6).
Cauliflower Cheese Pasta Bake FAQ
Do I have to use Gruyere?
Cheddar cauliflower pasta is a popular combo, so if for whatever reason you don’t have/want Gruyere just stick with cheddar.
Do I have to add the bacon?
I do highly recommend adding it if you can. Cheese + cauliflower + pasta + BACON!? Gotta be done. Having said that I have made it without in the past and it’s still delicious.
Serving Cauliflower Cheese Pasta Bake
Once it’s out of the oven, I usually let it sit for a few mins, at least until it stops bubbling. Mainly so I don’t burn the roof of my mouth off, but also because it gives the pasta bake a final chance to reform its shape and thicken up a little.
Alrighty, let’s tuck into the full recipe for this cauliflower cheese pasta bake shall we?!
How to make Cauliflower Cheese Pasta Bake (Full Recipe & Video)
Cauliflower Cheese Pasta Bake
- 9" x 9" Baking Dish (or similar size)
- Large Baking Tray
- Large Pan, Wooden Spoon & Whisk
- Cheese Grater
- Sharp Knife & Chopping Board
Ingredients (check list):
- 1 medium/large head of Cauliflower, diced into bite-sized florets (whole head should weigh around 850g/1.8lb before being diced)
- 10.5oz / 300g Short Cut Pasta, here I use Conchiglie
- 2 cups / 480ml Milk, at room temp
- 1 cup / 240ml Veg Stock
- 1 cup / 100g Cheddar, grated (plus more to top)
- 1 cup / 100g Gruyere, grated (see notes)
- 4 - 5 slices of Bacon
- 4 tbsp EACH: Flour, Butter
- 1 heaped tsp Dijon Mustard
- 1/4 tsp EACH: Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, White Pepper
- 1/4 tsp + 1/4 tsp Salt, plus more as needed
- 1/8 tsp Black Pepper
- 2 pinches of Ground Nutmeg
- 1.5 tbsp Olive Oil
- Add cauliflower florets to a baking dish or tray and combine with 1.5 tbsp olive oil, 1/4 tsp salt & 1/8 tsp black pepper. Roast in the oven at 200C/400F for around 20mins, or until lightly charred and fork tender (toss once throughout). Timings will depend on the size of the florets, so just be vigilant. You don't need them completely soft as they'll carry on cooking in the pasta bake.
- With around 8-10mins to go, add the pasta to salted boiling water and cook until al dente. You want it still a touch hard, otherwise, it'll end up too soft once baked. Drain when needed.
- Meanwhile, melt 4 tbsp butter in a large pan over medium heat and stir in 4 tbsp flour. Gradually add in 1 cup of veg stock then 2 cups of milk, whisking as you go to avoid lumps forming. Once the sauce is thick and bubbly, turn off the heat and stir through 1 cup cheddar and 1 cup gruyere. Stir in 1 heaped tsp dijon alongside 1/4 tsp garlic powder, onion powder, white pepper, salt and 2 pinches nutmeg.
- Stir in the drained pasta alongside the roasted cauliflower. Pour into a baking dish then roughly cover with more cheddar. Place the dish on a baking tray and pop in the oven at the same temp for 20-25mins, or until deep golden and bubbly. At this point, you can cook the bacon, either in the oven or on the stove.
- Dice the bacon, scatter over the pasta bake then tuck in and enjoy!
Quick 1 min demo!
Your Private Notes:
For more similar recipes check out these beauties:
Pasta Bake Recipes
- Creamy Tuna Pasta Bake (or Tomato Tuna Pasta Bake!)
- Taco Pasta Bake
- Veggie Pasta Bake
- Chicken Pasta Bake
- Meatball Pasta Bake
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