This post was created in partnership with Barilla Pasta
Creamy caulifower sauce coating wholemeal pasta, packed full of garlick, mushrooms & thyme, too! This is a perfect pasta bake for those cold, winter days. If you are as much of a pasta bake fan as I am, you’ll love this post.
Every year I start to feel a bit blue once winter arrives. All that luscious summer produce is gone and with it, the sunlight has withered away. I’m stuck wondering why the heck we still have to put the clocks back and hour in the winter? It just means the meagre afternoon sunlight becomes even more fleeting. I miss fresh tomatoes, peaches and big bunches of fresh basil 🙁
The upside is the comfort food that always seems appropriate to cosy up with. Miso soup, pie and big bowls of porridge are all top favourites. Anything baked ticks two boxes because a) it’s probably going to involve hot carbs and b) If I close the kitchen door whilst I’m cooking, the whole room gets warmed up and I don’t need to wear a jumper for once!
It won’t come as a surprise that pasta bake is a definite winter winner for me. You can pack in loads of veggies so you feel relatively healthy – I even snuck cauliflower purée into the sauce because I’m all about that vegetable/fibre life plus it makes it even creamier! I used Barilla’s wholemeal penne pasta and I have to say, it’s my favourite wholemeal pasta I’ve ever tried as it still has a perfect texture (despite the bran) and a light, nutty flavour. As eating dairy-heavy foods can give me stomach cramps, I prefer this cheese-light sauce to something like classic mac and cheese. There’s just a sprinkling of parmesan on top which packs in the umami tang without needing half a block of Cheddar. Garlicky mushrooms and hella fresh thyme bring the flavour in and a scattering of breadcrumbs on top give it that irresistible crispy topping. It’s a perfect dish to shared with friends on a weeknight or Sunday evening when you’re in need of some proper, hearty food.
- 1 small head cauliflower, , outer leaves removed, cut into medium florets
- 1 small potato, (~100g), sliced 3mm thick
- 250 g wholemeal penne pasta, (I used Barilla)
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- 200 ml semi-skimmed milk or unsweetened non-dairy milk, (see notes)
- 200 ml vegetable stock
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- black pepper
- 250 g chestnut mushrooms, , sliced
- 5 cloves garlic, , crushed or finely chopped
- 6 sprigs fresh thyme, , leaves picked & stems discarded
- 100 g curly kale, , chopped into bite-sized pieces
- 4 tbsp breadcrumbs, (see notes)
- 30 g Parmesan cheese, , grated
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme, , leaves picked & stems discarded
- a drizzle of olive oil
- Bring a medium pot of salted water to the boil. Add the cauliflower and potato. Bring back up to the boil over a high heat then turn the heat down to simmer – leave to cook for 8 minutes until the cauliflower and potato are soft. Use a slotted spoon to remove the cauliflower and potato from the water to a large jug or bowl – set aside for later and keep the pot of water on the stove.
- Add the pasta to the pot of water and bring back up to the boil (add more water to the pot if needed to cover the pasta). Once boiling, turn the heat down to simmer and leave the pasta to cook for 5 minutes until only just barely cooked on the outside with an uncooked centre. Drain the pasta and rinse it under cold water in a colander. Set aside in the colander for later. Return the pot to the stove.
- Add 2 tbsp of olive oil to the pot along with the flour. Stir over a medium heat until smooth and cook for 1 minute. Combine the milk and stock together in a jug – gradually mix this liquid into the flour-oil paste in the pot, stirring in between additions until smooth. Once all the liquid has been added, bring the mixture to a simmer over a medium-low heat and let it cook for 2 minutes – it won’t be very thick right now but don’t worry!
- Pour the hot contents of the pot and the tablespoon of mustard into the jug/bowl containing the cauliflower and potato. Blend using a hand blender until completely smooth and thick. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Set the sauce aside.
- Preheat the oven to 180 C (350 F).
- In a medium frying pan, heat the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil over a medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and let them cook, stirring occasionally until they’ve shrunk down and are releasing liquid (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic, thyme and a pinch of salt to the frying pan, turn the heat down to low and cook for 1 minute. Add the kale to the frying pan and cover with a lid or large plate. Leave to steam for 5-7 minutes until the kale has wilted down. Remove the lid and take off the heat.
- In a medium casserole dish or roasting tin, mix the pasta, mushrooms, kale and sauce. Mix the topping ingredients (except the olive oil) in a small bowl and sprinkle over the pasta. Drizzle with some olive oil, slide the dish into the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes until the topping is slightly browned. Divide between bowls and serve hot.
- To make this vegan: omit the parmesan from the topping and just season with some flaky salt and nutritional yeast instead. Use unsweetened, non-dairy milk in the sauce.
- To make breadcrumbs: take one slice of bread and rub it on the coarse side of a grated to shred it into coarse breadcrumbs.