Pennette with Cauliflower Ragu


Mini Penne with Cauliflower RaguI don’t know about you, but sometimes I crave macaroni and cheese. Occasionally I succumb to a box of Kraft (so good in a bad way)  and sometimes I make macaroni and cheese from scratch. But most of the time I just try to resist temptation because I always feel so guilty after eating a carb and fat laden meal with NO vegetables. But now that I have discovered the deliciousness of Pennette with Cauliflower Ragu I will never need to feel guilty again. Thank you, Mario Batali!

This recipe comes from Mario Batali’s Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking. I can’t say enough good things about this dish! It is absolutely delicious and so much better for you than macaroni and cheese from a box. More vegetables than cheese or pasta, but you would never know it. I have made this several times for friends and it always gets rave reviews. The leftovers are delicious, too. 🙂

My version is a little different from the recipe in Mario Batali’s cookbook. I decreased the amount of pasta, added more cheese and breadcrumbs, and snuck in an entire bunch of kale, just to make this a little more healthy. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

If you like this recipe you might also enjoy:

Orchiette with Turkey Sausage & Kale
White Wine Spaghetti
Penne with Ham, Onions & Green Peas
Cauliflower Mash

Pennette with Cauliflower Ragu

Recipe Type: Pasta, Vegetarian
Author: A Passionate Plate
Serves: 8
Adapted from the Pennette with Cauliflower Ragu recipe in Mario Batali’s Molto Gusto Cookbook, this will satisfy your craving for macaroni and cheese, but it is much healthier!
  • 2 cups fresh bread crumbs
  • 4 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium cauliflower (about 2 lbs)
  • 1 small bunch kale
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 Tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1 cup water
  • 6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 and 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • Maldon or other flaky sea salt
  • 2 tsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 8 oz. dry pennette (mini penne) preferably whole wheat
  1. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs and olive oil. Stir to combine.
  2. Sauté the bread crumbs, stirring frequently, until they are toasted and lightly browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  3. Cut the cauliflower in half. Remove the leaves, core and stalks.
  4. Cut the cauliflower florets into small pieces and set aside.
  5. Chop the core, stalks and leaves.
  6. Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the cauliflower core, stalks, leaves, garlic, and onion. Season with Maldon salt and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking until the cauliflower is tender – approximately 20 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, remove the kale leaves from their stems and tear the leaves into bite sized pieces. Discard the stems.
  8. Add the cauliflower florets, kale, red pepper flakes and 1 cup of water to the pot.
  9. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is very soft and almost falling apart, about 25 minutes.
  10. Meanwhile bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  11. When the cauliflower is cooked, add the butter and stir it in gently. Taste and season with more Maldon salt if necessary. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.
  12. Stir the pasta into the pot of boiling water and cook until al dente.
  13. Drain the pasta, but reserve 1/3 cup of pasta water. Add the pasta and 1/3 cup of pasta water back to the pot. Stir in the cauliflower mixture, 1 cup of parmesan cheese, 1 cup of bread crumbs and the chopped rosemary.
  14. Transfer the pasta to a serving bowl and sprinkle with remaining bread crumbs and parmesan cheese.
  15. Finish with a few grinds of black pepper and serve immediately.


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