California is the most productive agricultural state in the United States. Out of the top 10 counties in the whole country, California holds 9 of those. The other is the San Joaquin Valley, which is also in California, reaping in $35 billion in revenue.
So, this recipe I am dedicating to the state of California, where I lived for 23 years. Cauliflower is not just a winter veggie in California, you can find it year round and it tastes just as good as the seasonal offerings in other states during the fall and winter produce months from September to December.
My Savory Cauliflower Cheese and Pasta Casserole recipe is a twist on the traditional mac and cheese recipe. This dish has depth of flavor, with a creamy cheese sauce and lots of texture. I served this with semolina bread (and butter :)).
However, because we have lots of gooey, cheesy yumminess and the carbohydrates from the pasta, you can refrain from the bread and butter part...if you can resist it that is! This casserole recipe is delicious! I urge you to try it. It's a great pot luck dish and can be served as a side instead of mashed potatoes etc. Try it. I know you'll love it!
Check out my Cook's notes/tips at the bottom of the page for information on nutrition, choosing a great cauliflower and storage.
1 lb. dry penne pasta
4 - 5 cups cauliflower florets (or 1 medium head of cabbage)
3 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 large leek (or 3 small), white and light green parts only, sliced in half moons
1 1/2 cups chopped cooked bacon
1 small onion, finely diced
2 cups of croutons, crushed roughly
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
1. Cook the pasta in salted, boiling water in a large pot until it is pre-aldente. The pasta will have an extremely firm bite to it. This should only take a few minutes. It will finish cooking in the oven. Strain and run cold water over the pasta to prevent it cooking any further. Set aside.
2. While the pasta is cooking, place the cauliflower in a steamer basket with water in the bottom of a large pot. Make sure the water doesn't seep through the holes at the bottom of the basket. Cover and steam for approximately 10 - 15 minutes. The cauliflower should only be partially cooked. Set aside.
3. Using a medium-sized skillet heat 2 tbsp. of the olive oil over a medium-high heat. Add the leeks and onion and sauté for 5 - 7 minutes until soft. Mix the cooked, chopped bacon into the leek mixture and set aside.
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk (I used 2% in this recipe)
2 cups heavy or light cream
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. dry yellow Coleman's mustard (optional)
1 bunch of fresh cilantro, leaves chopped
1. Making the roux. Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan over low-medium heat. Then, add the flour and stir in well. Cook, stirring constantly until the roux turns from a blond color to a slightly light-brown color. Add the milk, cream, pepper and mustard, if using. Mix well. Please note: If you have any lumps from your roux, just take a hand whisk and break them up. Bring the mixture slowly to a gentle boil and cook 1 minute more.
2. Add all of the cheeses and stir until they are melted. Remove the pan from the heat and mix in the leek, bacon and onion mixture. Lastly, stir in the cilantro.
Building your casserole!
You can make one very large casserole here or individual portions in smaller dishes.
1. Break up your cauliflower florets into smaller ones if you wish and layer them in a well-greased dish. Add to that the pasta and toss together. Make sure you get a good combination of pasta and cauliflower. It needs to be packed!
2. Pour the cheese sauce evenly over the cauliflower and pasta. Do not fill the casserole dish too high with the cheese sauce. This will bubble a little in the oven, so leave room for spillage. Toss the broken up croutons in the remaining olive oil and scatter these evenly over the top of the casserole.
3. Cook until the croutons become golden brown (a little longer if you like a darker topping), approximately 20 - 30 minutes.
I served this with semolina bread. Enjoy!
Cook's Notes and Tips
Cauliflower Nutrition : Vitamins A, B-complex, E, carbohydrates, protein, iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium and fiber. Low in calories and contains no fat or cholesterol. Cauliflower may help in the prevention of cancer, heart disease and hypertension according to scientists.
Choosing your cauliflower : Always select a bright white or creamy white cauliflower. Look underneath at the leaves. If they are yellow, then the product is becoming old already and will not be as nutritional and flavorful. The florets should be tight-packed and have no loose ones. Any browning on the white part means the cauliflower is old.
Storage/handling : Store your cauliflower in the crisper drawer in its wrapper. Never wash veggies until you are ready to use them, they will deteriorate in the refrigerator. Store for 5-7 days. However, I prefer to use them within 2 or 3 days. Buy it when you need it, that's my motto! Never boil your cauliflower! You will lose all of the nutrition. Steaming or roasting is the way to go.