Cheat’s roasted cauliflower cheese pasta with crispy breadcrumbs

On an evening when I was seriously craving cheesy-carbs-on-the-sofa kind of comfort food, I had the idea to combine two big comfort food hitters in one recipe: cauliflower cheese and pasta. But I didn’t want that boiled cauliflower taste/smell (I’m not into it, I’m a cauli roaster through and through) and I also didn’t want the heaviness (and effort) of making a proper white sauce, hence this recipe was born.

It uses roasted cauliflower (including some leaves and stalks) because I prefer the way it tastes and like the fact it’s part soft and part crispy. The ‘cheat’s’ cheese sauce is made by a simple combination of crème fraiche and proper strong mature cheddar with a touch of mustard and a bit of pasta water to stop things clagging up. Once you’ve mixed that all in with the pasta, you’ve already got something deliciously creamy, cheesy and carby but I like to go the extra mile and add a scattering of crunchy garlic breadcrumbs and a generous grating of parmesan for extra YUM.

Cheat’s roasted cauliflower cheese pasta with crispy breadcrumbs

Serves 4

Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 20-25 mins

1 cauliflower
olive oil
360g rigatoni (or any short pasta such as penne or casarecce)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 large slice (approx. 80g) stale breadsourdough, baguette or crusty white all work well
butter (optional)
300ml crème fraiche (half fat works fine but feel like you might as well go the whole hog)
1tsp Dijon mustard
100g EXTRA MATURE cheddar cheese, grated [This is important to get the right level of cheesiness]
parmesan, to serve

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180c fan/200c. Roughly chop or break your cauliflower into small florets, slice some of the stalks and keep some of the small-ish leaves (pic below). Drizzle with around 2 tbsp olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper then roast for 15 mins, until the stalks are really tender and the florets and leaves have nicely crisped up.

  2. While your cauli is roasting, get a large pan of water on to boil, salt it heavily then add your pasta and cook for a minute less than pack instructions.

  3. Now to make your crispy breadcrumbs. Using a food processor, mini chopper or bullet blender, blitz the bread to coarse breadcrumbs. In a large frying pan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil on medium heat and add one finely chopped garlic clove. Fry for a minute or two until starting to colour (but don’t let it brown) then add your breadcrumbs and some salt and pepper, turn the heat up to high and fry until crispy (will take about 5 mins and you might need a drizzle more olive oil if it’s not really happening). Take off the heat and set aside.

  4. Drain your pasta, reserving around 100ml pasta water in a jug or bowl to use again later.

  5. In a large non-stick pan or casserole dish, heat 1 tbsp olive oil and a good chunk of butter (if using) on a medium heat. Add the remaining chopped garlic clove and fry for a few minutes until turning golden (but again, not brown). Tip the roasted cauli, leaves and all (if you want to keep a few crispy leaves aside for decoration, it’s a nice idea but not essential), into the pan with the garlic and stir to combine, then turn the heat down to low. Add the crème fraiche, mustard, grated cheese and 100ml pasta water, plus a generous twist of black pepper. Tip in your pasta and stir until the cheese is fully melted and everything is nicely combined and warmed through.

  6. To serve, divide between four bowls and top with crispy breadcrumbs, plus a grating of parmesan.

Cauliflower before roasting
Cauliflower after roasting

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