For those of you who hate cauliflower: just relax. You can take it out of this recipe if it truly offends you that much. However, I wouldn’t recommend it, because it’s a big part of what makes this recipe so delicious. So… proceed at your own risk.
Penne with Roasted Cauliflower and Bacon Parmesan Cream Sauce
1 lb penne (I prefer Barilla Plus)
half a large head of cauliflower, cut into florets
6 slices of bacon, cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 yellow onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated parmesan (plus more for the topping)
3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
1.) Preheat your oven to 400°. On a foil-lined baking sheet, toss the cauliflower with a couple teaspoons of olive oil and half a teaspoon of kosher salt. Allow the cauliflower to roast while you make the sauce and the pasta.
2.) Get your pasta water heating. Once it’s at a boil, add a generous handful of salt, and add the pasta in. Cook as directed. In a heavy-bottomed pot, over medium heat, cook the bacon until crisp. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate with a slotted spoon, and pour off all but about 1-2 tablespoons of the bacon grease.
3.) Add your onions to the hot bacon grease, and saute until they’re very soft and beginning to brown, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook until fragrant, about a minute.
4.) Add the heavy cream and grated parmesan to the pot (this is a good time to use the pre-grated stuff from the store, rather than freshly grated). Lower the heat to medium low, and allow the cream mixture to come up to a gentle bubble. Let it bubble for 5-8 minutes, until it thickens just slightly. Stir in about half a teaspoon of freshly grated black pepper. (At this point, you can taste the sauce to see if it needs salt; with the bacon grease and the parmesan, it will likely only need a small pinch. If the sauce tastes a bit bland, it’s because it needs salt!)
5.) When the sauce is ready, the cauliflower and pasta should be, too. Turn your broiler on high, and then add the drained pasta, the roasted cauliflower, and the cooked bacon back to the pot, and stir to combine everything well. Pour the entire mixture into a large baking dish. Top with the panko, and some freshly grated parmesan, and a light mist/drizzle of olive oil.
6.) Place under the broiler for about 2 minutes, until the breadcrumbs and cheese are nice and golden brown.
This pasta is GOOD. I mean, it’s hard to go wrong with a sauce made of heavy cream, bacon, and parmesan cheese – but this dish didn’t taste heavy AT ALL, somehow. I think that skipping a traditional bechamel sauce (flour + butter + milk or cream, cooked into a thicker sauce) in favor of cream thickened just enough to coat the noodles, really helped keep it from being super heavy. Additionally, the combination of the nutty cauliflower and parmesan cheese, plus the salty and smoky bacon, and sweet onions? RIDICULOUS, I tell you. A (somewhat odd) flavor combination made in heaven, I swear.
If you really hate cauliflower that much, you can omit it and use broccoli instead… just know that I will feel sad that you’re missing out on all the cauliflower goodness. Also, you could make this a day ahead, if you wanted – cook everything as directed, and place into the baking dish, but don’t add the panko and parmesan cheese topping. Cover with saran wrap and refrigerate; when you’re ready to serve it, place it into a cold oven, and turn the heat on to 350°. Once the oven has reached 350, let the dish heat for another 5 minutes or so, then top with the panko and parmesan, and broil for 1-2 minutes.
Seriously, just embrace the cauliflower – it’s good for you!
(For any March Madness fans out there… I assume you’ll be cheering for my Wolverines this Saturday night?? GO BLUE!!)