Baked Pasta with Cauliflower and Cheese

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Macaroni and Cheese is so popular now, people of all ages are ordering it as their main dish in restaurants and bistros everywhere. Here’s a version, Italian style, studded with cauliflorets and chopped tomatoes, a rich, yummy sauce and Italian cheeses, with a gratifyingly golden, crusty breadcrumb topping. This is so good it’ll make you hurt yourself!

Baked Pasta with Cauliflower and Cheese
Recipe type: Main dish
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6 to 8
 
Ingredients
Bechamel Sauce
  • ½ cup butter
  • ½ cup unbleached white
  • 1 quart milk, heated
  • 1½ tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • pinch of nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 4 cups chopped onions
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • ½ cup fresh basil, chopped (2 teaspoons dried)
  • 1 large head of cauliflower, cut in florets
  • 6 ripe tomatoes, chopped or 3 cups canned tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 pound medium pasta shells
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (2½ ounces)
  • 1½ cups shredded mozzarella or mild provolone cheese (6 ounces)
  • seasoned bread crumbs
Instructions
  1. To prepare the Bechamel sauce, melt the butter in a heavy sauce pan on medium heat.
  2. Sprinkle in the flour, whisking or stirring constantly, until a smooth paste is formed.
  3. Add the heated milk slowly, a cup at a time, continuing to whisk until the sauce begins to thicken.
  4. Add the mustard, nutmeg, salt, and pepper and let the sauce thicken further on low heat.
  5. Remove from heat and cover.
  6. Sauté the onions, garlic, and basil in oil.
  7. When the onions are translucent, add the cauliflower and sauté for 5 minutes more.
  8. Add the tomatoes and simmer until the cauliflower is tender.
  9. Cook the pasta al dente and then drain.
  10. In a large bowl, combine the cooked pasta, the sautéed vegetables, and the lemon juice.
  11. Mix in the Bechamel sauce.
  12. Put half of the pasta mixture in an oiled baking dish.
  13. Sprinkle on half of each of the cheeses.
  14. Add the rest of the pasta mixture and then the rest of the cheese.
  15. Top with seasoned bread crumbs and bake covered at 375° for about 30 minutes and then uncovered for about 15 minutes or until bubbling and golden on top.

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