This recipe is like a cross between cauliflower cheese and macaroni cheese, and it’s perfect comfort food! The weather’s picked up again in Tassie and we’ve got some beautiful sunny days as we head into autumn, but it was getting a bit chilly for a while and I dug this recipe out! Make this to enjoy on its own, or pair it with some BBQ food. It’s great as a veggie dish, but chicken or bacon are tasty additions. I sometimes add a bit of broccoli too, for a little more colour. It can also be prepared in advance, up to the stage where it’s ready to go in the oven, giving you time to do all those other things that crop up before dinner, or relax with friends and family!

It’s adapted from the Abel and Cole Cookbook “Cooking outside the box – easy, seasonal, organic” which has tons of ideas for easy meals using seasonal veggies. I’d completely forgotten that this original recipe includes mustard, so I’m definitely going to add that the next time I make it!

Cauliflower Cheese Pasta Bake
Servings = 6-8
Time = 60 minutes
Difficulty = Moderate
Description = Comfort food at its best – a cross between cauliflower cheese and macaroni cheese. Inspired by the Abel and Cole Cookbook ‘Cooking outside the box’.

Recipe Ingredients
– 1 large cauliflower, cut into florets
– 2 onions, chopped
– 500g penne pasta
– 25g fresh extra virgin olive oil
– 25g plain flour (I prefer “00” flour but regular plain works fine)
– 500ml milk (I use full fat)
– 100g grated hard cheese (eg. cheddar) – for the sauce
– 50g grated hard cheese – to put on top
– salt and pepper

Recipe Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 200degC.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, and add the cauliflower florets, chopped onion, and dried pasta.
3. Cook all together until pasta is al dente, approximately 9-10 minutes. Then drain.
4. Meanwhile, make a cheese sauce… Heat the extra virgin olive oil over a low heat, then add the flour, stir in, and cook gently while stirring for 2 minutes.
5. Add the milk slowly, stirring continuously to combine, and continue until the sauce thickens. Add a bit more milk if it’s too thick.
6. Stir in the 100g of grated cheese and season with salt and pepper.
7. Take the cheese sauce off the heat, and add the drained cauliflower, onion, and pasta. Stir gently to coat.
8. Tip the whole lot into a large baking dish, and top with the other 50g of grated cheese.
9. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, until brown and bubbly on top!
10. Serve alone, with a garden salad, or as a side dish.

Possible substitutions and additions:
– You can use butter (preferably grass-fed) instead of extra virgin olive oil for the cheese sauce, if you prefer a traditional Béchamel sauce.
– Add a teaspoon of hot English mustard to the sauce when you add the cheese, for extra tang.
– Vary the shape of pasta, or try wholemeal pasta to increase the fibre content.
– Experiment with different types of cheese – strong cheddar, blue cheeses, parmesan, and mozzarella are all good, and can be used in combination. Great if you happen to have odd leftover bits of cheese, although this rarely happens in my house!
– Use broccoli as well as the cauli to introduce a bit of colour.
– Red onion works just as well as white onion.
– Add a few bits of bacon or chicken if you don’t want a veggie meal! (It’s a good way to make use of leftover scraps of chicken from a roast.) I add them when I’m mixing the pasta and veg into the cheese sauce.

Other tips:
– This can be made in advance, put in the baking dish, and baked later. Or even the next day! If it’s cool when it goes in the oven it’ll need a bit longer to cook, about 30 minutes.
– It can also be frozen successfully, either in the baking dish before baking if you want to make it several days in advance, or as leftovers. I’d recommend defrosting before baking in the oven, but I’ve reheated frozen leftovers in the microwave without any problems.