This recipe for roasted cauliflower pasta with Parmesan cheese and pine nuts (pignoli) has been in our weeknight dinner rotation for a couple of years now. We try to make a meatless meal at least twice per week, and this recipe, along with our Baked Eggplant Parmigiana, are two of our favorites.
What You’ll Find in This Post
When you roast fresh cauliflower, the heat of the oven enhances its natural sweetness and lends it a nutty quality. That flavor blends well with the other ingredients in this recipe, particularly the toasty panko crumbs and pine nuts.
In addition to the fact that this recipe is quick and easy to prepare, it’s also easy to give it a slightly different flavor profile from time to time just by adding one or two ingredients (see ideas below).
Furthermore, if you’re trying to watch your carb intake, the larger ratio of cauliflower to pasta helps keep them under control without sacrificing flavor or satisfaction.
Key Ingredients and Substitutions
In addition to aromatics like garlic and onion and staples like olive oil and butter, these are the important ingredients you’ll need to make roasted cauliflower pasta. We’ve included shopping tips, recommendations, and substitutions where possible.
- Fresh cauliflower: When shopping for cauliflower, choose heads that are heavy for their size, have bright green leaves, and are free from brown spots. Once you get your cauliflower home, store it in a loosely-closed plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to five days. You can also roast frozen cauliflower for this dish. You’ll find instructions in our how-to recipe for perfect oven-roasted cauliflower.
- Pasta: For the best flavor, choose a spiral pasta cut like rotini to allow the buttery bits of sautéed garlic, onion, and toasted breadcrumbs to cling to all the nooks and crannies. This ensures you get plenty of flavor in every bite. Other good options include corkscrew pasta (cavatappi) and small shells (conchigliette).
- Pine nuts: Pine nuts (aka pignoli nuts) have a soft texture and slightly sweet flavor that’s enhanced by toasting. They bring nutty flavor and textural contrast to cauliflower pasta and pair well with the sharpness of the Parmesan cheese. While pine nuts are our preference for this dish, you could also use chopped walnuts.
- Breadcrumbs: Panko crumbs work really well in this recipe and are very convenient. Their coarse, crisp texture takes well to toasting and holds up once combined with other ingredients in the finished dish.
- Parmesan cheese: A healthy dose of grated Parmesan (we use Parmigiano Reggiano) is an indispensable flavor addition to this dish. Other options include Pecorino Romano or Grano Padano.
How to Make Roasted Cauliflower Pasta
Here’s an overview of how to make this dish. Detailed instructions, ingredients, quantities, and notes are found in the printable version of the recipe below.
Roast the cauliflower: Begin by preheating the oven and lining a sheet pan with parchment for easy cleanup. Put the cauliflower florets in a mixing bowl, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, toss them until coated, then spread them on the sheet pan. Roast for 15 minutes, turn the florets, rotate the pan, and roast until caramelized and tender when pierced with a knife.
Make the crumb mixture: Once you get the cauliflower into the oven to roast, put a pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta and start making the crumb mixture. Heat butter and olive oil in a frying pan and sauté chopped onion over medium heat until softened. Add minced garlic, pine nuts, and panko crumbs, and continue cooking until the mixture is toasted and golden. As soon as the cauliflower is done roasting, add it to the crumb mixture and remove it from the heat until the pasta is ready.
Cook the pasta: Cook and drain your pasta according to package directions, reserving a little of the cooking water. Return the drained pasta to the pan, add chopped parsley, half-and-half, and grated Parmesan cheese, and combine to coat. If the mixture seems too dry, add the cooking water in small increments until you like the consistency.
Finish the dish and serve: Combine the pasta with the crumb mixture, and top with more grated Parmesan and a sprinkling of parsley.
Switch Up the Flavors: Tasty Additions
Pancetta: This tasty, salt-cured Italian version of bacon can be diced and sautéed before adding the onion. You can leave a little of the rendered fat in the pan for extra flavor and cut back on the olive oil slightly to compensate. Note: You could also use bacon, but its smokiness may overwhelm the subtle flavors of other ingredients.
Crushed red pepper: If you’d like a little heat, a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes added to the onions as you sauté is a nice touch.
Anchovies: Try “melting” a couple of anchovies together with the onions as you sauté them. When you sauté anchovies in oil, they begin to break down, essentially melting into the oil and releasing a complex, rich umami flavor.
Raisins: Tossing in a handful of raisins adds a pop of sweetness and a nice textural element. Plump them first by submerging them in hot water for 15 minutes.
Basil: You can add some fresh basil in addition to the parsley.
Lemon: A squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a bit of grated zest will add a bright note of acidity and pair particularly well if you plan to use basil in addition to the parsley.
Roasted Cauliflower Pasta with Parmesan and Pine Nuts
For the roasted cauliflower:
- 5 to 6 cups cauliflower florets, one average head
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Salt and pepper
For the pasta:
- 4 ounces pasta (rotini, penne)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 3/4 cup chopped onion
- 3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1/2 cup panko crumbs
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- 3 tablespoons half-and-half
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Preheat the oven to 425°F and line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
- Place the cauliflower in a mixing bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper, and toss again.
- Spread the cauliflower on the sheet pan in an even layer and roast for 15 minutes. Turn the florets, rotate the pan, and continue roasting until the florets are nicely caramelized and tender when pierced with a knife, 10 to 15 minutes longer.
- While the cauliflower is roasting, put a pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta.
- Heat the butter and olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened and just starting to develop a little color, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté just until fragrant, about 30 seconds longer (do not brown).
- Stir in the pine nuts and panko crumbs and continue cooking until the mixture is lightly toasted and golden brown. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper, then remove from the heat.Important note: Be sure to keep the crumb mixture moving in the pan as it cooks so no one ingredient gets overly browned.
- Once the cauliflower has finished roasting, combine it with the toasted crumb mixture and set aside.
- Cook and drain the pasta according to package directions, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Return the pasta to the pan, add the chopped parsley, half-and-half, and Parmesan cheese.
- Combine until the pasta is well-coated. If you feel the pasta mixture is too dry, add pasta water, a little at a time until you like the consistency.
- Combine the pasta with the cauliflower and crumb mixture, grate more Parmesan over the top, and serve family style.
Here are some ideas for ingredie
- Pancetta: This tasty, salt-cured Italian version of bacon can be diced and sautéed before adding the onion. You can leave a little of the rendered fat in the pan for extra flavor and cut back on the olive oil slightly to compensate. Note: You could also use bacon, but its smokiness may overwhelm the subtle flavors of other ingredients.
- Crushed red pepper: If you’d like a little heat, a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes added to the onions as you sauté is a nice touch.
- Anchovies: Try “melting” a couple of anchovies together with the onions as you sauté them. When you sauté anchovies in oil, they begin to break down, essentially melting into the oil and releasing a complex, rich flavor (umami).
- Raisins: Tossing in a handful of raisins adds a pop of sweetness and a nice textural element. Plump them first by submerging them in hot water for 15 minutes.
- Basil: You can add some fresh basil in addition to the parsley.
- Lemon: A squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a bit of grated zest will add a bright note of acidity and pair particularly well if you plan to use basil in addition to the parsley.