This is the best of both worlds – it uses less pasta than a pasta bake, but still beefs up the cauliflower cheese. I love to roast the cauliflower to get lovely nutty notes.
1 cauliflower, broken down into florets, core sliced, leaves removed and reserved, thick stems sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
6 shallots, sliced
1 tsp caster sugar
1 thyme sprig
2 tbsp white wine
100g large pasta shape, such as conchiglioni
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp plain flour
100g mature cheddar
50g parmesan (or vegetarian alternative), plus extra to top nutmeg, grated
50g Gruyère or comté
1 tsp white wine vinegar or lemon juice
Heat oven to 220C/200 fan/gas 9. Toss the cauliflower florets, leaves and sliced core with 1 tbsp olive oil in a roasting tin and season. Roast in the oven for 30-40 mins, or until the cauliflower is turning golden and smelling nutty. While it’s roasting, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a non-stick frying pan and add the shallots, sugar and thyme. Cook for 10-15 mins until soft, sweet and caramelised. Add the wine and cook for a few more mins until evaporated. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salty boiling water until just cooked. Drain and set aside.
For the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a non-stick saucepan over a medium heat with the bay leaf. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 mins or so, until the roux is starting to bubble. Pour in the milk, little by little, stirring with a whisk, until fully incorporated and you have a smooth, lump-free sauce. Cook for about 10 mins until thickened, and then season with nutmeg and black pepper. Next, add the cheese and stir over the heat until it’s melted and smooth. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning, adding the vinegar or lemon juice to taste.
Tip the pasta and shallots into the cauliflower roasting dish, then pour over the cheese sauce and stir so everything is well coated. Sprinkle over the remaining parmesan, reduce the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4 and bake for 20 mins, or until golden. Remove from the oven and allow to settle for about 10 mins, then serve with a crisp chicory salad.