Baked Pasta and Broccoli with Ham and Cheesy-Creamy Cauliflower Sauce

How’s that for a title?  Sometimes I find it so hard to create a recipe title that effectively communicates all of the great elements in a dish but isn’t a paragraph long.  So sometimes they are a paragraph long.  And it made me really happy to see that Martha does it too 🙂 This recipe was in this month’s Martha Stewart Living Magazine.  It caught my eye because I’m always looking for ways to be sneaky and slip extra veggies into family meals.  This one has cauliflower pureed right into the creamy cheesy sauce and you will have absolutely no idea it’s in there.  It’s also made with nonfat milk and packed with a whole head of not only cauliflower but broccoli too.  Use a multigrain pasta and you’ve got a healthy, hearty, comforting meal in no time.

First saute some cauliflower, shallots (I used onions instead), and garlic.  Cauliflower isn’t my favorite vegetable; I couldn’t eat it raw to save my life, but I’ve found several ways to cook it that I really love (I’m going to share one next week) and one of them is like this, pureed into a sauce.  Since cauliflower doesn’t have very much moisture at all, your pan might get a little dry.  You can add a little more oil, or I added a little water several times to make sure it wasn’t sticking to the pan.

After it softens a bit, sprinkle in just a little flour

and then pour in some nonfat milk

Bring the milk up to a simmer (be careful and keep it moving periodically so it doesn’t burn.  Don’t turn the heat up to high, try medium-high and bring the heat up gradually.)  While your cauliflower and milk are simmering away, you can start bringing a pot of water to boil for your pasta and get that cooked.  Also, chop up a head of broccoli

and dice up some sliced ham.  I just grabbed some sliced smoked ham from the deli department and asked him to slice it a little thicker than a normal sandwich slice.  You could also use a diced/cubed ham, but cutting up sliced lets you use less and have it go further.

When your cauliflower is nice and tender (we’re talking super soft- you want it to puree) remove it from the heat to let it cool off just a bit, and grate some Pecorino cheese.  If you’ve never used Pecorino before, it’s really yummy.  It’s similar to Parmesan, but with a slightly stronger flavor.  The benefit of using a strong flavored cheese is that it allows you to use a little less and still have the flavor come through in the dish.  We’re using the whole wedge here though, so it’s not like we’re hurtin’ for cheese!  If you can’t find Pecorino, or it’s too expensive, you could sub parm and this would still be good.  I’d recommend using a fresh Parmesan that you grate yourself for best results.

Pour your milk and cauliflower into a blender and add half the cheese.  Puree it until it’s really smooth and then pour the sauce onto your pasta.

Then add the ham and broccoli.  And here’s a little tip.  Even after cooking in the oven for 30 minutes, my broccoli was crisp-tender.  If you (or your kiddos) like it softer, you could toss it into the hot pasta water for the last minute or so of cooking; just to give it a head start.

Stir that up and give it a generous sprinkling of kosher salt and black pepper.  Well, not generous at first; taste as you go and go from there, but I was pretty generous 🙂

Place the mixture in a casserole dish and top with the rest of the cheese.

and bake it until it’s bubbly and golden brown on top.

I love things that are kind of crispy and browned on the outside and soft and creamy underneath…

See that rich creamy sauce?  Who would have guessed the base was non-fat milk and cauliflower?  Not my 3 little kids, that’s for sure.

When I was eating this I realized you could easily get similar results by blending cooked cauliflower into our Guiltless Alfredo Sauce (that goes in the blender anyway) and stirring it up with steamed broccoli and ham.  So that’s another option!


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Meet The Author

Sara Wells

Sara Wells co-founded Our Best Bites in 2008. She is the author of three Bestselling Cook Books, Best Bites: 150 Family Favorite RecipesSavoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites, and 400 Calories or Less from Our Best Bites. Sara’s work has been featured in many local and national news outlets and publications such as Parenting MagazineBetter Homes & GardensFine CookingThe Rachel Ray Show and the New York Times.

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Questions & Reviews

  1. I made this tonight, and we are NOT fans of this one, the texture was not palatable, this is the first recipe I have gotten from your site that I didn’t like.

    1. I’m sorry it wasn’t a success Ellen. I wonder if something went wrong because the texture should have just been super creamy as you can see mine was. Either way, sorry! (Blame Martha, it’s her recipe 😉 haha)

      1. It is no biggie, I always love your website and you guys. Of course I will always be back 🙂

  2. Tried this last night and LOVED it. I had my parents over, and we all agreed it’s a keeper. (By the way, there was no fresh cauliflower at my grocery store, so I followed your directions exactly but started with totally frozen cauliflower…worked beautifully. I also made the cheese sauce the night before and refrigerated it overnight, which worked fine.)

  3. hee hee! my 17 yr old is stoked to have pasta with cheese sauce tonight for dinner, and he has no idea that he’ll be getting veggies! thanks for the marvelous idea.

  4. This tasted kind of like quiche to me. We didn’t love it, but it was all right and a good way to use up a ton of broccoli and cauliflower that we had! And I think if I make it again, I’ll add corn, to make it even more like a quiche!

  5. I made this recipe tonight and while the flavors were great, it was horribly soupy. So bad that I had to use a slotted spoon to serve it. I followed the recipe exactly, so I’m not sure what happened. Next time I will use about 2.5 cups of milk instead of 4.

    1. That’s strange Holly, maybe try cooking the mixture a little longer as well, or adding a touch more flour.

    1. Probably. I’ve never tried it so I can’t tell ya for sure, but I would think it would freeze just fine.

  6. Cauliflower happens to be pretty much my favorite cooked vegetable (even though I don’t like it raw) so I’ll definitely be trying this, thank you! Love the creamy deliciousness your pics captured 🙂

  7. Ok, this looks so yummy! I will definitely make it. But it would be even more fun with those adorable bowls. I cannot resist adorable bowls. Where did you find such cute ones?

  8. I saw this in MS’s magazine and made this tonight. My 5-y-o son had seconds… that’s saying something. It was delicious!

  9. Ohhh can I pick off each and every one of those crusty pieces of cheese and hoard them for myself please?????

  10. I am going to make this right now ( sounds much better than the tacos I was planning on making). I have been sneaking cauliflower in my mashed potatoes for years, my kids still have no idea that their FAVORITE food is fifty percent cauliflower. Muah ha ha ha!

  11. This looks so healthy yet SO good. Cheese with ham on anything is just wonderful. Suprisingly my seven year old loves califlower and my five year old loves broccolli, so we are all winners with this one. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  12. I can not eat broccoli because I am on coumdin … But I am totally making this for the kids!! Is there something I could sub for the broccoli? Not a leafy green veggie! Please?

    <3 Ann

    1. I haven’t made this yet, I think I am going to try it tomorrow. I am soooo not an expert, but I was thinking if I had to replace the broccoli, I would maybe try fresh or frozen peas? They are pretty good in a cheese sauce, I add them to my daughter’s mac and cheese to cool it off and she loves it. Although honestly, I can’t imagine you can go wrong with almost any veggie in cheese sauce. 🙂

  13. Great trick to sneak more veg into my hubby’s tummy. He LOVES alfredo…hee hee hee…makes me feel so sneaky!

  14. This looks amazing! I love cauliflower anyway but won’t object to it being in a sauce. Usually I have a list a mile long of recipes I want to make soon, but this one may be bumped up to the top. Yum.

    Also not trying to be nitpicky at all, but I noticed a little typo- the second sentence of the second paragraph has the word “purred” instead of “pureed.” I did laugh at the idea of a purred sauce but thought I’d point it out because I know I would like it if someone did the same for me 🙂

  15. Fantastic!! I’ve been wanted to try out the cauliflower puree sauce thing, but wan’t really sure where to start … so thanks for putting it all together! I’m sure this will be a hit with the family 🙂

  16. I received an email from you with a stir fry recipe on it. It called for linguine noodles and had red onions, yellow bell peppers and other veggies in it? It was called something like, Easy noodle stir Fry? I can’t remember. Chicken was optional? Where can I find it on the website? 🙂

    Thanks so much!

    1. Sheri, just visit our recipe index and you should spot what you’re looking for. I’d check pastas or the Asian section!

  17. Yay for a recipe with sneaky vegetable additions! It’s helpful for my toddler who prety much won’t eat any veggies at all. I’ve really wanted to try a cauliflower puree in a cheesy pasta like this. Can’t wait to give it a whirl. It looks so so good!

  18. My mom used to make a cheese sauce for the cauliflower and the broccoli both when we were younger just so that we would eat our veggies – this looks fabulous with the ham and the cheese baked on top! I need to add this to my list of must try recipes as I suspect it’s pretty close to my Mom’s.

  19. I tore this one out too—it looks so great, glad to hear it was a success!

  20. This looks fantastic. My 4-year old, who used to eat veggies like chocolate, is now in the “veggies are yucky” stage–so I’m loving the idea that there is cauliflower in this sauce. I’ll be trying this soon, for sure. Thanks for sharing!

  21. Looks yummy. I am not a fan of cauliflower but it’s mostly a texture thing (although I love broccoli so that must not be the only reason), but I think I could try it in something like this.

  22. I’m making this for dinner tonight! We aren’t big fans of cauliflower, but we ended up with a huge veggie tray, and I need to use it up. Thank you!

    1. I changed it slightly with the ingredients I had. It was a total hit!!! Thank you for the idea

  23. This looks awesome!! I’m not a huge fan of ham, so I might substitute shredded or cubed chicken. I love that you can have a creamy sauce without all the calories. This may end up adapted on my blog 🙂

  24. I love the idea of using cauliflower to make a slightly lighter sauce! I’ll be trying this one, thanks 🙂

  25. This sounds REALLY good. We do Bountiful Baskets and I’m often stumped what to do with cauliflower when we get it so it’s not always the same old, same old. This I will definitely have to try. Yum!!

  26. I’ve been staying up way too late and dinner was hours ago, and this looks really delish- plus, you make it look so cute when you dish it up. Was Martha’s title a paragraph long as well?