Cauliflower and Pasta Shells in a Fontina Cheese Sauce

I recently received Ina Garten’s latest cookbook, “Cooking for Jeffrey”. I mean how sweet is this to publish recipes she cooks for Jeffrey and  their friends.  Now why didn’t I think of that – “Cooking for Gene” hmmmm 🙂

This is Ina’s 10th cookbook and yes I have the other 9. She is a New York Times bestselling author and has won three Emmy Awards. I have been a big fan of Ina’s for a very long time. I love her story of meeting Jeffrey when she was 15 and what a wonderful and special life they have had together for so many years. Ina includes stories from their 48 years together with the recipes which became the basis for her successful food career. Did  you know she once had a job at the White House before becoming the Barefoot Contessa?

This recipe comes from David Tanis’ food column in the New York Times. At one time he was the head chef at Alice Waters’s restaurant Chez Panisse and now writes cookbooks and a food column.

As always there are a number of recipes in this new cookbook I would like to try.  If I want something special, or just every day food, her recipes have never failed me and I mean never! I decided to make the one whose main ingredient is one of my favorite veggies, cauliflower. There’s crispy pasta shells, cheesy sauce using Fontina, Pecorino and ricotta, fresh sage, garlic and capers. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

This fabulous recipe has a lot of ingredients but all of this can be prepared ahead of time. Just refrigerate, bring to room temperature and bake as directed.

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Cauliflower and Pasta Shells in a Fontina Cheese Sauce, Adapted

  • 3/4 lb. medium shells
  • kosher salt (see comment below)
  • olive oil
  • 1 large cauliflower, about 2 lbs.,  cut into small florets
  • 3 tbsp. fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp. capers, drained and chopped
  • 1 tbsp. fresh garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon zest, grated
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper (optional – you can taste the heat and I like it)
  • 2 cups fontina cheese, grated (I used a Michigan fontina but Ina recommends Italian Fontina Val d’Aosta), lightly packed
  • 1 cup fresh ricotta
  • 1/2 cup panko bread flakes
  • 6 tbsp. Pecorino cheese, grated
  • 2 tbsp. fresh parsley, minced

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Fill a large saucepan with water, add 2 tbsp. salt and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Do not overcook it as you will bake it later. Drain and pour into a large bowl.

Heat 3 tbsp. olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat, add half of the cauliflower in one layer. Saute for about 5 to 6 minutes, until the florets are lightly browned. Pour it into the bowl with the pasta. Add 3 more tbsp. olive oil and repeat.

Add the sage, capers, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper, 2 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. black pepper and combine. Stir in the Fontina. Transfer half of the mixture to a 10×13-inch baking dish. Spoon rounded tbsp. of ricotta on the pasta and spread out;  spoon the remaining pasta mixture on top.

Combine the panko, Pecorino, parsley and 1 tbsp. olive oil in a small bowl and sprinkle it evenly over the top. Bake for 30 minutes or so, until browned and crusty on top.

Comment: I usually cut back the amount of salt by half. Personally, I don’t need so much. When I can I also cut back on the oil as I did when cooking the cauliflower.

Update (2-2-17): This recipe is not a traditional, creamy “mac and cheese”. If you want this texture make a béchamel sauce and also stir in the ricotta instead of dolloping it on top of the pasta. Thanks Ginny for your comment!

Recipe by cookingwithauntjuju.com 

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I am linking this flavorful cauliflower recipe to Fiesta Friday.

27 thoughts on “Cauliflower and Pasta Shells in a Fontina Cheese Sauce

  1. This sounds delicious. When cheese is involved, I really cut back on the salt. I haven’t looked at that cookbook yet, but John always calls himself Jeffrey when It comes to the blog because he’s mentioned a lot but no one knows him.

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  2. I love Ina Garten and this looks like a lovely dish! I tend to want to eat more pasta in the winter and paired with cauliflower, perfect! 🙂

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  3. This is wonderful – like a pasta-cauliflower gratin. Fontina is probably my favorite nibbling cheese. We were right across the alps from the d’aosta region but didn’t have time to get over there! I’m still kicking myself! I need to look in to the cookbook, thanks.

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    • Thanks – it is like a gratin filled with cauliflower, pasta and best of all three kinds of cheese. Sometimes I can find the cheese from the d’aosta region but I felt Michigan fontina would do in a pinch. It’s another good cookbook and I do like her stories!

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  4. Love Ina Garten too, but alas I don’t own any of her cookbooks. She has a FB page though and I follow that quite intently. Love fontina, it has such a silky, smooth texture and wonderful to munch on. The cauliflower and pasta shells with the fontina must have really been magical. Like mac and cheese with a veggie thrown in, very clever 🙂

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    • Thanks Loretta – I’ve been buying her cookbooks for a long time and just love everything that I have made. I don’t participate in FB but I get regular emails from Food Network. You described this recipe perfectly – not a heavy cheese sauce but delicious – cauliflower makes it healthy right? 🙂

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    • Thanks Angie – I guess I must like Ina’s recipes since I have all 10 of her cookbooks. Her recipes always turn out and are comfort food all the way. I’ve never made her coq au vin – that’s another recipe I need to try.

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    • I checked Ina’s cookbook and there is no ingredient missing. It’s definitely not a creamy “mac and cheese” and one of the 3 people who enjoyed this dish with me suggested it would benefit from a béchamel sauce. I also would mix in the ricotta and not just dollop it on top of the pasta as it did not seem to melt well. Thanks for your input and I probably should include this info in the recipe.

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