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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63 comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  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. 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 🙂

  6. 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!!

  7. 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?

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