Weeknight dinner just became far more interesting thanks to this a little bit naughty/a lotta bit nice Cauliflower Pasta.
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Fresh cauliflower florets sautéed in garlic until golden, then tossed with peas, lemon zest, and a flourish of Parmesan cheese, it looks innocent enough at the outset.
It’s a healthy, veggie-filled pasta, it cooks entirely in one pot (including the noodles), and you’ll be glad to have it in your recipe repertoire.
Buuuutttt….let’s not stop there.
I have a new, exciting tip I learned that is transforming our basic weeknight pasta routine.
With this special “ingredient,” you’ll turn your cauliflower pasta into a next-level dish and feel like a legitimate chef while you do it: Crispy Bacon Parmesan Breadcrumbs.
Topping pasta with toasted breadcrumbs is a restaurant move that is so easy to do at home, I can’t believe we haven’t tried it until now.
I’m half considering keeping a small jar in my purse in case we go out for pasta and the restaurant doesn’t include them.
Kidding. Kind of.
Golden, toasted breadcrumbs are Italian food fairy dust.
A few tablespoons sprinkled over the top of your serving transforms this cauliflower pasta from a simple recipe you’re happy you tried into a special dinner you’ll remember.
5 Star Review
“Wow. I sampled the pasta mixture before the bacon breadcrumbs and it was terrific. Then I added the breadcrumbs and POW! So freakin’ good. Easy peasy and super delish! Definitely going in the rotation. Thanks for another killer recipe.”— Sara —
How to Make The Best Cauliflower Pasta Recipe
Italian food, I love you for your deceptive simplicity.
Like many great pasta recipes, the ingredient list here is short, but the flavor impact is long.
- Cauliflower. This versatile veggie is high in fiber, B-vitamins, and antioxidants. Because cauliflower is mild, it’s an ideal vehicle for soaking up the flavor of the spices, herbs, and aromatics that we’ll be adding (which is why it stars in Cauliflower Tacos too!). Once sautéed, it’s golden, tender, and its texture is lovely paired with the cooked pasta. You also could add some Roasted Cauliflower if you have it on hand.
- Whole Wheat Pasta Noodles. I LOVE the casarecce shape! It originated in Sicily and is known for its homemade appearance. The scroll shape makes it perfect for catching sauce and any yummy bits you add to the pasta (ahem, bacon breadcrumbs).
- Parmesan. A few tablespoons give the pasta a rich, nutty, umami factor.
- Garlic + Onions. These aromatics give the pasta backbone and flavor the cauliflower.
- Lemon. To make the pasta light and bright.
- Thyme. I used dried thyme for ease, though fresh thyme would be fantastic if you have it. If using fresh, stir it in at the end.
- Red Pepper Flakes. A spicy counterpoint to liven up the mild cauliflower. The recipe as written is not spicy, so feel free to add extra to taste.
- Peas. Frozen peas are a super simple, tasty way to add an extra serving of veggies to this healthy pasta recipe.
- Chicken Broth. In lieu of cooking the pasta separately, I cooked the noodles in broth in the same pot as the rest of the ingredients. That’s one less pan to wash. The noodles absorb the broth’s flavor as they cook, and the pasta starches help to create a light sauce.
- Bacon. Crispy. Salty. Delicious. We’ll use the bacon drippings to toast the breadcrumbs too (!!).
- Whole Wheat Panko Breadcrumbs. Panko makes for the crispiest breadcrumb topping, and the whole wheat option is a subtle way to make this cauliflower pasta a bit better for you. Toast them right in the bacon drippings for the max flavor impact.
5 Star Review
“Omg, this is a flavor sensation. Wow, so delicious. My family loves it. I will be making this again for sure. Already shared recipe with my siblings. Very very yummy!”— Susan Spellburg —
- You’ll use just one pot! First, make the bacon breadcrumbs.
- Saute the cauliflower.
- In the same pot, cook the pasta. Keep an eye on the pot, stir periodically, and additional broth if your pasta becomes dry.
- Lastly, remove your pot from the heat and stir everything together. Plate your pasta servings, and sprinkle the bacon breadcrumbs on top. Be generous. Serve, and ENJOY!
How to Store, Freeze, and Reheat Cauliflower Pasta
- To Store. Place cooked cauliflower pasta (without breadcrumbs) in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. To keep them from becoming soggy, store fully cooked and cooled bacon Parmesan breadcrumbs separately in an airtight storage container at room temperature and use to top leftovers.
- To Reheat. Gently reheat leftovers in a saucepan over low heat until warm. You can also reheat leftovers on a microwave-safe plate in the microwave until heated through. I suggest splashing in additional broth or water if your pasta becomes dry during reheating. I also love adding a squeeze of fresh lemon juice over the warmed leftovers to perk them back up.
- To Freeze. Store cooked leftovers in an airtight freezer-safe container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Keep fully cooked and cooled bacon Parmesan breadcrumbs separately in an airtight freezer-safe storage container in the freezer and use to top leftovers as needed.
What to Serve with Cauliflower Pasta
- Salad. Hearty pasta and salad are a perfect match. This Antipasto Salad, Anytime Arugula Salad, and Caesar Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad would all be delicious!
- Roasted Vegetables. Since this recipe doesn’t require your oven, sneak a few more vegetables into your meal with this Roasted Zucchini or Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Garlic.
- Italian Margarita. This Italian Margarita is a twist on a classic margarita, and it makes a delicious sidekick to this pasta.
This Sicilian cauliflower pasta is easy to vary up and adapt to different diets.
- Vegan Cauliflower Pasta. Omit the bacon and Parmesan; toast the breadcrumbs in 2 tablespoons olive oil. If you like, you can add a bit of nutritional yeast for the “cheesy” factor.
- Cauliflower Pasta with Tomato Sauce. Personally, I love light pasta dishes like this one that have a “sauce” primarily made from the pasta cooking liquid. Ben, on the other hand, is a tomato sauce-or-bust kind of guy. He had his cauliflower pasta with tomato sauce. I used a good quality store-bought sauce, warmed it on the stove in a small, separate pot, then spooned it over his serving.
More Easy Pasta Recipes
Pro tip: bacon breadcrumbs would be a tasty addition to any one of these.
- Chicken Broccoli Ziti
- Garlic Shrimp Pasta
- Brussels Sprouts Mac and Cheese (with more bacon)
- Instant Pot Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
- Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken
- Dutch Oven. This will last your lifetime!
- Nesting Mixing Bowls. Use these for anything from baking and cooking, to serving, to holding charades cards.
- Wooden Spoons. Toss, sautee, crumble, serve…these wooden spoons are the best.
I adore recipes like this cauliflower pasta that prove mealtime at home is just as exciting as eating out.
I can’t wait for you to try it, especially the bacon breadcrumbs.
Don’t be surprised when you start adding them to your other favorite pasta recipes too!
Frequently Asked Questions
I love whole wheat pasta noodles because of the additional protein and fiber boost they provide, and the casarecce shape is super fun and holds sauce well, but you can sub in any type of pasta or your favorite noodle shape, like rigatoni or penne.
To adapt this recipe to gluten free, your favorite certified gluten-free pasta noodles may be swapped in, like chickpea pasta, and the breadcrumbs would also need to be gluten free. I would recommend cooking the pasta noodles separately per the instructions then stirring everything together at the end, as gluten free pasta can be tricky texture-wise.
While I believe the peas are an excellent addition to this pasta recipe for their texture and flavor, they can certainly be omitted if you have some pea aversions in your home.
- 4 slices bacon cut into 1/4-inch pieces
- ½ cup whole wheat Panko breadcrumbs
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese divided
- 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 yellow onion cut into ¼-inch dice
- 1 large head cauliflower cut into florets (about 3 pounds cauliflower or 8 cups florets)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt divided
- 2 cloves garlic minced, about 2 teaspoons
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 16 ounces dry pasta such as penne, rotini, or casaracce
- 5 to 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth divided, plus a few additional splashes as needed
- 1 cup frozen peas thawed
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Heat a Dutch oven or large pot over medium heat. Add the bacon pieces and cook until crisp, about 8 minutes. Stir in the Panko and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until Panko is deep, dark golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the Panko-bacon mixture to a bowl. Let cool, then toss with 2 tablespoons Parmesan. Set aside.
- With a damp paper towel, carefully wipe the skillet clean. Return the skillet to the heat, increase the heat to medium-high, and add the olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the cauliflower, onion, and 1 teaspoon salt. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is tender and has begun to brown in spots, about 15 minutes. Stir in the garlic, thyme, and red pepper and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds. With a large spoon, scoop the vegetables onto a large plate and cover to keep warm.
- Return the pot to the heat. Add 5 cups of the broth and increase the heat to high. Once simmering, add the pasta and adjust the heat so that it comes to a gentle boil. As soon as it begins to boil, cook, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid is absorbed and pasta is al dente, about 8 minutes. If at any point the pasta seems dry, add in some of the remaining broth to loosen it back up. Once the pasta has cooked, stir in the peas and let cook just long enough to warm them through, about 30 seconds. If the pasta is too dry, add more chicken broth or (if you run out) hot water.
- Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the parsley, lemon juice, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan, and cauliflower mixture. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as desired (remember, the breadcrumbs are a bit salty/peppery too). Divide the pasta between serving plates and sprinkle the bacon breadcrumbs generously over the top. Enjoy!
- TO STORE: Place cooked cauliflower pasta (without breadcrumbs) in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. To keep them from becoming soggy, store fully cooked and cooled bacon Parmesan breadcrumbs separately in an airtight storage container at room temperature and use to top leftovers.
- TO REHEAT: Gently reheat leftovers in a saucepan over low heat until warm. You can also reheat leftovers on a microwave-safe plate in the microwave until heated through. I suggest splashing in additional broth or water if your pasta becomes dry during reheating. I also love adding a squeeze of fresh lemon juice over the warmed leftovers to perk them back up.
- TO FREEZE: Store cooked leftovers in an airtight freezer-safe container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Keep fully cooked and cooled bacon Parmesan breadcrumbs separately in an airtight freezer-safe storage container in the freezer and use to top leftovers as needed.
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