Cauliflower parmigiana pasta bake

Parmigiana pasta bake with cauliflower balls.
Parmigiana pasta bake with cauliflower balls. Photo: Katrina Meynink

This dish, in all its cheesy, saucy carby goodness is my carbs obsession personified. The jarred piquillo peppers (roasted red capsicum) give a mighty lift to many a sauce or dish needing husky sweet heat, and are a worthy pantry staple.


Cauli balls

1 large head of cauliflower (about 700g once trimmed), blitzed to a rough crumb

1 cup cooked basmati rice

1 egg plus 2 egg yolks

? tbsp dried oregano


1 x 400g tin crushed tomatoes

1 red onion

? cup basil leaves, coarsely torn

2 cloves garlic

1 roasted red piquillo pepper

1 red chilli, deseeded

To assemble

3 cups large hollow pasta (such as conchiglie shells or paccheri)

180g buffalo mozzarella, sliced into rounds

salt and pepper

basil leaves to scatter


1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Boil the pasta for one minute less than the packet instructions suggest, drain and set aside.

2. Combine the blitzed cauliflower, rice, eggs and oregano in a bowl. Use your hands to roll the mixture into balls, if they seem to crumble, return to the bowl and keep massaging – the ingredients will continue to come together.

3. Add one to two tablespoons of olive oil to a frypan and place over medium heat. Add the cauliflower balls and cook to brown lightly (be gentle, they will be more fragile than their traditional meat counterparts). Carefully remove and place in a high-sided baking dish that is approximately five-cup capacity. Arrange the cooked pasta shells around the cauli balls.

4. In the same food processor or blender used to blitz the cauliflower, add the sauce ingredients and blitz to a sauce consistency. Gently pour the sauce over the pasta and meatballs. Top with slices of mozzarella, season with salt and pepper, place a few basil leaves on top and bake until golden and the cheese has melted (about 15 to 18 minutes).

5. Remove from the oven, scatter over a few more fresh basil leaves and serve hot.

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