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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  1. 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?

  2. 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!!

  3. 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 🙂

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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!

  10. 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 🙂

  11. 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 🙂

  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. 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 🙂

  14. 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!

  15. 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!

  16. 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?

  17. 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 🙂

  18. 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.

  19. 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!

  20. 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.

  21. 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.)

  22. 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)

  23. I just made this tonight and it tasted pretty good but i was a little disappointed in the texture. IDK if I just needed to puree it longer (I pureed it for like 5 minutes) or if i just didn’t get the cauliflower soft enough but it wasn’t as smooth or ‘creamy’ as I was expecting. Maybe I was just expecting it to be a lot like alfredo sauce and well, it’s cauliflower 🙂

  24. I made this last night with chicken instead of ham and I put bread crumbs on top instead of more cheese. My husband and I thought it was fantastic but my kids all thought it was too cheesy. Go figure! I’m going to try it again with parmesan and see if that helps them.

  25. This turned out awesome. Since we are lovers of your alfredo sauce already, I took your suggestion and pureed the cauliflower into your alfredo recipe (which I doubled) with just minor alterations. It was awesome!!!!! The sauce was delicious and super creamy, and I kept sneaking pieces!! All of my children asked for 2nds and 3rds and they were ecstatic that we had it for leftovers the next day!! Thanks.

    1. No, you could refrigerate it Liz. It might thicken after being stored, but you could heat it up and just add a little milk to thin if it needs it.

  26. I just wanted to say thank you for a wonderful recipe. I had seen someone make an alfredo sauce with cauliflower on TV before, but didn’t trust them when they said it was just as good as regular alfredo. But, when I saw this recipe on your site, I knew I had to try it. I trust you, because I haven’t had a single thing from this site that I didn’t enjoy. My husband and I concurred that this is better than regular alfredo sauce, because you don’t have that greasy film left over in your mouth. My kids loved it so much, 2 of the 4 were talking about having it for their birthday meals. . . a high compliment in our house! Thanks so much for your healthy alternative recipes 🙂

  27. We got both cauliflower and broccoli in Bountiful Baskets this week, so this recipe was just made for us! What’s better is that my 20 month old ate it – and he NEVER touches ANY vegetables. So thanks for giving us his yearly vegetable intake. 😉

  28. I was a little nervous making this one. It seemed like it wasn’t going to turn out very good. I had to purée it in 2 different batches since all of the sauce wouldn’t fit in my blender at once. Then I simmered it a bit longer because it still looked like it would be quite runny. But after all was said and done, it turned out fabulous! And I didn’t need to broil it. The cheese got nice and crusty all on its own. I also used quinoa noodles which I had never used before. They were really good. My only complaint is that the recipe takes a while to make. Next time I’ll do more prep ahead.

  29. this is my new favorite recipe hands down (and i try a new recipe at least once a week)!!! so good. i cannot wait to make it again and i’ve shared it with everyone i know!! thank you!! (way too many exclamations points, but i’m that excited haha)

  30. I found the pecorino cheese at Costco which was great … But now I have a lot of it. Will it melt up in the guiltless Alfredo like the Parmesan does? Good cheese either way … Glad I had a reason to try it 🙂 thanks for sharing … Making this over the weekend! 🙂
    Made your apple cinnamon cream cheese bites from the calendar today … DeLiSH!!

  31. I’m trying this tomorrow! My kids are huge fans of Pasta Roni and I’m really wanting to get away from it, but finding saucy enough recipes without all the fat or cream is challenging. Yummy looking.

  32. Sadly, I also did not like this too much. The cheese was too bitter for my liking. I think if I do it again I will do parmesan and add a lot more ham than I did and probably more salt. Texture was creamy just weird flavor–maybe too much Romano.

  33. Just made this tonight, and I really liked it! My husband was suspicious when he saw me pureeing cauliflower (I’ve had a lot of kitchen fails lately; he has reason to be suspicious!), but my kids asked for seconds, which means it’s a winner for me! I used parmesan, and put the breadcrumbs on right before broiling.

  34. Made this last night – so yummy and so easy. My husband, who would put ketchup on his ketchup if he could, said “no thanks, this is really good without it.” I was blown away. As leftovers today for lunch, I added some fresh dived tomatoes – still super yummy. This is a keeper for me. Thanks for the recipe!

  35. BE CAREFUL NOT TO BURN THE WHITE SAUCE. I thought I was doing a good job of constantly stirring it but it turned out awful 🙁
    I think it would taste better with a 2% milk with some heavy cream sneaked in.

  36. I absolutely LOVED this recipe! As of today, this will be the second week in a row of making this dish. My family loved it and they couldn’t believe the sauce was made from cauliflower. It was absolutely a hit! Thank you so much for sharing 🙂

  37. Is it possible to just make the cauliflower sauce and stop after pouring over the pasta and mixing it in? Or is it necessary to bake it after?


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