Cheesy Baked Pasta with Cauliflower & Tomatoes

I have a couple family friendly comfort food pasta casseroles to share. In my house, this type of dish always seems to be the perfect meal in cold weather.

We recently enjoyed this one on a snowy evening- eating by candlelight. I thanked my lucky stars that it had finished baking before our power went out… hence the candlelight! 😉

This recipe was adapted from Bon Appétit, contributed by Chris Morocco. I used diced tomatoes and substituted fontina for provolone. I suppose half and half could be substituted for some (or all) of the heavy cream, but I went for the full indulgence on this (dark and cold) occasion.

  • 1 pound pasta, such as medium shell or tube pasta (I used Capunti pasta)
  • 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 8 ounces low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella, coarsely grated
  • 4 ounces fontina, coarsely grated
  • 2 ounces extra sharp cheddar, coarsely grated
  • 2 ounces Parmesan, finely grated
  • 1½ cups heavy cream
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ head of cauliflower, coarsely chopped
  • room-temperature butter or nonstick cooking oil spray (for pan)
  • fresh herbs such as thyme, basil, or parsley, for garnish, optional
  1. Preheat oven to 350°, preferably on convection.
  2. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until about halfway cooked (it needs to be very firm at this stage so that it doesn’t overcook when baked). Drain, reserving ½ cup pasta cooking liquid, and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Drain well.
  3. Combine mozzarella, fontina, cheddar, Parmesan, cream, diced tomatoes, and reserved ½ cup pasta cooking liquid in a large bowl; mix to combine. Season generously with salt and pepper.
  4. Add cauliflower and cooked pasta and toss to coat.
  5. Grease a 3-qt. or 13x9x2″ baking dish with butter or cooking oil spray.
  6. Scrape in pasta mixture and spread out into an even layer.
  7. Cover dish tightly with foil and bake pasta until hot throughout and steaming when foil is lifted, 20–25 minutes.
  8. Remove foil and increase oven temperature to 425◦, preferably on convection.
  9. Continue to bake pasta until sauce is bubbling and top is browned and crunchy in spots, 20–30 minutes.
  10. Let cool slightly before serving. Garnish with fresh herbs, as desired.

Note: Pasta can be assembled 2 days ahead. Cover and chill until ready to bake.

One Year Ago: Vegetable Shepherd’s Pie

Two Years Ago: Oscar Night Waffles

Three Years Ago: Chicken Parmesan with Chicken Thighs

Four Years Ago: Chicken, Shrimp, & Clam Jambalaya

Five Years Ago:

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Firehouse Chili Gumbo

This is the last “soup” that I have to share (for now!) in my cozy soup series. 😉 It would be perfect for any Super Bowl Sunday feast. It was layered with flavor.

The recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Sam Sifton. The original recipe was adapted from the one that a Louisiana firefighter named Jeremy Chauvin entered into a national cook-off run by Hormel Foods in 2017, and that took home the prize for America’s Best Firehouse Chili. It uses a roux as a base, making it a chili “gumbo.” I substituted ground turkey for the ground beef.

Yield: Serves 8 to 10

For the Chili:

  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil, like canola or grapeseed
  • 3 pounds ground beef or ground turkey, ideally coarse-ground
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt
  • teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3 tablespoons steak sauce (I substituted soy sauce)
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes

For the Gumbo:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 medium shallots, peeled and diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 3 ribs celery, trimmed and diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 6-ounce cans tomato paste
  • 2 8-ounce cans tomato sauce
  • 1 to 2 cups tomato juice
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon apple-cider vinegar, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons hot sauce, or to taste

For Serving:

  • sliced scallions, shredded sharp cheddar cheese, and/or tortilla chips, for garnish, as desired
  • corn bread or corn muffins, optional
  1. Make the chili. Heat the oil in a large skillet or heavy-bottomed pot set over medium-high heat. (I used an enameled cast iron pot.)
  2. Working in batches, cook the ground meat, stirring often, until it has begun to brown at the edges. Using a slotted spoon, transfer browned meat to a bowl.
  3. Pour off excess fat, turn heat down to medium and return the browned meat to the skillet or pot.
  4. Add salt, peppers, chile powder, turmeric, oregano and cumin, and stir to combine.
  5. Add steak sauce/soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and diced tomatoes, and stir again. Cover the skillet or pot, and cook, stirring a few times, for 15 minutes or so.
  6. Make the gumbo. Place a large pot with a heavy bottom over medium heat, and put the butter and oil into it. When the butter is melted and foaming, sprinkle the flour into the pan, and whisk to combine. Continue whisking until the mixture is golden brown, approximately 15 to 20 minutes.
  7. Add the onion, shallots, bell peppers, celery and garlic, and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables have started to soften, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.
  8. Make the chili gumbo. Add the beef mixture to the pot with the vegetables along with the tomato paste, tomato sauce, tomato juice and ketchup, and stir to combine. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 to 45 minutes, then add apple-cider vinegar and hot sauce to taste.
  9. Take the pot off the heat, and serve, or allow to cool and refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to cure. Heat before serving.
  10. Serve garnished with scallions, shredded cheese, and/or tortilla chips, as desired.

One Year Ago: Squash & Pork Stir-Fry

Two Years Ago: Duchess Baked Potatoes

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Four Years Ago:

Five Years Ago:

Leek, Tomato, & Farro Soup with Pancetta

This hearty soup had more of a stew-like consistency. We ate it with a huge green salad and sliced sourdough baguette. It was an incredible meal on a cold night. We devoured it. 😉

This recipe was adapted from Dinner: Changing the Game by Melissa Clark. I doubled the recipe, decreased the pancetta, increased the garlic, used whole San Marzano tomatoes, and added stock and water to adjust the consistency. Great.

Yield: Serves 10-12

  • 8 oz pancetta, diced
  • 4 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3-4 leeks (white and light green parts only), cleaned and thinly sliced
  • 2 large celery stalks
  • 2 large carrots (I used purple and orange rainbow carrots)
  • 6-7 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme, plus more for serving
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 17-18 oz (about 3 cups) Farro (I used Trader Joe’s 10-minute Farro)
  • 2 28-oz cans whole San Marzano tomatoes, with juice, diced
  • 2 tsp coarse salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-3 cups water or chicken stock, as desired to adjust consistency
  • coarsely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving
  • chopped fresh parsley, for serving
  1. Heat a large pot over medium heat. (I used an enameled cast iron pot.)
  2. Add the pancetta and cook until it is well browned and crisped, 5 to 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a  paper-towel-lined plate. (Leave the rendered fat in the pot.)
  3. Add the olive oil to the pot, stir in the leeks, celery, and carrot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened, 7 to 10 minutes; stir in the garlic for the last minute.
  4. Add the thyme and rosemary sprigs, farro, tomatoes, salt, and a generous grind of black pepper.
  5. Bring to a simmer and cook until the farro is almost tender, about 20 minutes.
  6. Stir in the pancetta and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes more.
  7. Adjust the consistency with water or stock, as desired.
  8. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls, discarding the herb sprigs. Top with shredded cheese and a sprinkling of thyme or parsley.

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Winter Squash & Red Bean Mole

This is an another amazing vegetarian chili variation. Hearty too. It was especially wonderful for me as well because it incorporated a lot of flavors typically used in a traditional Mexican mole, one of my absolute loves.

This recipe was adapted from The Moosewood Restaurant Table: 250 Brand-New Recipes from the Natural Foods Restaurant that Revolutionized Eating in America from the Moosewood Collective. I doubled the recipe, increased the garlic, and omitted the ground fennel. We ate it with corn muffins and a green salad. Fabulous!

Yield: Serves 8 to 12

  • 4 T olive oil
  • 3 cups chopped yellow onions (I used 2 large onions)
  • 10-12 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp ground fennel seeds, optional
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 T chopped fresh thyme of 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 3 tsp coarse salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2/3 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup seeded and chopped poblano peppers (can substitute cubanelle peppers)
  • 3 cups seeded and chopped red, yellow, or orange bell peppers (I used 2 red, 1 yellow, & 1 orange)
  • 6 cups diced butternut squash (bite-size cubes), from 1 medium butternut squash
  • 28-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 2 2/3 cups water
  • 6 T pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • 2 T sesame seeds
  • 2 15-oz cans red kidney beans, drained
  • 1-2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, finely chopped, or to taste
  • 3 oz bittersweet chocolate (I used 72% cacao dark chocolate)
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish
  • sour cream, for garnish
  • thinly sliced scallions, for garnish
  1. In a heavy bottomed pot on medium heat, warm the oil. (I used an enameled cast iron pot.)
  2. Add the onions, garlic, fennel, cinnamon, thyme, salt, and black pepper and cook for 5 to 7 minutes until the onions soften, stirring often to prevent sticking.
  3. Add the celery, poblano peppers, and bell peppers and cook for another 5 minutes until the peppers brighten and become fragrant.
  4. Stir in the squash and cook for a minute or two more.
  5. Add the tomatoes and water to the pot, cover, bring to a boil.
  6. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the squash is tender.
  7. Using a spice grinder, mini food processor, or a mortar and pestle, finely grind the pepitas and sesame seeds.
  8. When the squash is tender, stir the ground seeds, kidney beans, chipotles to taste, and chocolate into the stew. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.
  9. Stir in the cilantro.
  10. Garnish with more cilantro, sliced scallions, and/or sour cream, as desired.

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Hugh Acheson’s Bucatini Amatriciana

I have a couple of fast weeknight pasta dishes to share. Classics. Both are served with bucatini, a house favorite. 🙂

This amatriciana sauce has rich and meaty flavor from the pancetta which balances nicely with the spiciness from crushed red pepper flakes. The flavors really come together as the sauce simmers. Simple and delicious.

This recipe was adapted from a “staff-favorite” Food and Wine recipe, contributed by Hugh Acheson. I omitted the marjoram.

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Baked Ziti with Cauliflower

Adding vegetables to a baked pasta dish is a wonderful way to slim it down and make it a little bit healthier. My son enjoyed this version as much as our standard super cheesy baked ziti. Not only does this version incorporate cauliflower, it is also upgraded by adding flavor from saffron and anchovies.

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Martha Rose Shulman. The dish was inspired by another Sicilian cauliflower dish in Clifford A. Wright’s “Cucinia Paradiso.” I modified the recipe by roasting the cauliflower, increasing the garlic and tomatoes, using whole wheat pasta, and incorporating mozzarella cheese. Great.

Yield: Serves 6

  • 1 medium cauliflower, about 2 pounds, leaves and stem trimmed, cut into florets
  • coarse salt, to taste
  • pinch of saffron threads
  • 2-4 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 anchovy fillets, rinsed and chopped
  • 1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes, with juice
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 T chopped flat leaf parsley
  • ¾ pound ziti or penne rigate (I used whole wheat penne)
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
  • 1/2 pound part-skim mozzarella cheese, grated
  1. Preheat an oven to 425 degrees, preferably on convection roast.
  2. On a parchment paper lined, rimmed baking sheet, toss the cauliflower florets with 1-2 tablespoons of the olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until tender.
  3. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees, on convection.
  4. Place the saffron in a small bowl and add 3 tablespoons warm water. Let steep for 10 to 15 minutes.
  5. Combine the grated cheeses in a bowl.
  6. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet and add the garlic. Cook, stirring, until it smells fragrant, about 30 seconds to a minute, and add the anchovies and tomatoes. Season to taste with salt (remembering that the anchovies will contribute a lot of salt) and freshly ground pepper.
  7. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes have cooked down and smell fragrant, about 10 minutes.
  8. Stir in the roasted cauliflower, saffron with its soaking water, and parsley, cover and simmer for another 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  9. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt generously. Add the pasta. Cook until just al dente, a few minutes less than you would cook it to serve. It will soften further when it bakes. (I cooked the whole wheat penne noodles for 5 minutes, 2 minutes shy of al dente.) Drain and transfer to a bowl.
  10. Oil a 3-quart baking dish. Toss the pasta with half the cauliflower mixture and half the cheese and spoon into the baking dish.
  11. Combine the remaining cauliflower mixture with half of the remaining cheese and spoon over the pasta.
  12. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese over the top. Drizzle on the remaining tablespoon of oil.
  13. Place in the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until bubbling. Garnish with parsley, if desired. Serve hot.

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Sheet Pan Turkey Meatballs with Roasted Harissa Chickpeas & Tomatoes

We have such a big adjustment- to life!- at the beginning of the school year. I feel like we’re always pressed for time… especially when it comes to preparing a family dinner. I have a few weeknight meals that I’d like to share that have helped us during crunch time. 🙂

This delicious sheet pan dinner was adapted from Bon Appétit, contributed by Claire Saffitz. I used ground turkey instead of ground chicken and halved the harissa to decrease the level of spiciness. We ate it with crusty bread. Spicy and Great!!

Yield: 4 Servings
  • 3 to 6 tablespoons jarred harissa paste, divided ( I used Trader Joe’s Harissa)
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup panko
  • 6 ounces feta in brine plus ¼ cup brine, cheese crumbled, divided (I used sheep’s milk feta)
  • ⅔ cup chopped parsley, divided
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 3 garlic cloves, divided
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound ground chicken or turkey
  • 1 pint mixed cherry or grape tomatoes, halved if large
  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed, drained
  • crusty bread, for serving, optional
  1. Place a rack in top of oven; preheat to 400°, preferably on convection roast.
  2. Taste your harissa. If it’s extremely spicy, cut quantities used in recipe in half (…which I did!).
  3. Using a fork, stir 1 egg, ½ cup panko, ¼ cup feta brine, half of crumbled feta, half of parsley, 2 T (or 4 T if not halved) harissa, and 2 T oil in a large bowl until egg is blended and mixture looks homogenous.
  4. Finely grate or push 2 garlic cloves through a garlic press into bowl, then add 1 teaspoon salt and several cranks of black pepper. Be pretty generous here; 10 cranks wouldn’t be too much! Stir again with a fork.
  5. Add ground meat to garlic and work with clean hands until the meat is totally intermingled with panko mixture. Work it enough so that you don’t see big distinct pieces of meat, but then stop. Overworking could lead to crumbly meatballs. The mixture will feel very soft and wet and look a bit shiny.
  6. Pour tomatoes and chickpeas into the center of a large rimmed baking sheet. Add 2 T oil and remaining 1 T (or 2 T if not halved) harissa. Season with a good pinch of salt and pepper. Using clean hands or a small spatula, toss everything together right on sheet until chickpeas and tomatoes are evenly coated.
  7. Next you’re going to form the meatballs, but don’t wash your hands if you used them—the coating of oil will prevent them from sticking to your palms. Roll ground meat mixture gently and loosely between your palms into about 14 to 16 golf ball-sized balls (it’s okay if the balls aren’t perfectly round; just try to make them about the same size). (I used a large cookie scoop and kept my hands clean.) Place on baking sheet, tucking them in and around chickpeas and tomatoes and spacing evenly apart.
  8. Bake meatballs on top rack until about halfway cooked through, 12–15 minutes. Remove from oven and take a look. The tomatoes should be starting to soften and burst, and the meatballs should look opaque and feel a bit springy to the touch. If not, bake a few minutes longer.
  9. Meanwhile, combine remaining 3 oz. feta, ⅓ cup parsley, and 2 T oil in a small bowl, then grate or use a garlic press to add in the remaining garlic clove. Toss with fork to distribute. Turn on broiler (to high if your broiler has settings).
  10. Place baking sheet back on top rack if your broiler is on the top of your oven. Broil meatballs, rotating tray once or twice if they’re browning unevenly, until browned and fully cooked through, some tomatoes are lightly charred, and some chickpeas are crisp, 8–10 minutes.
  11. Let sit a few minutes, then sprinkle feta mixture over meatballs.

Note: Meatballs can be formed on baking sheet 1 day ahead. Cover with plastic wrap and chill.

I’m bringing my dish to share at Angie’s Fiesta Friday #190, co-hosted by Shinta @Carmel Tinted Life and Diann @Of Goats and Greens. Enjoy!

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