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Charred Cauliflower & Shells

OMG this is so good. I happened to turn on Food Network, just as Ina Garten was pouring this lovely melding of charred cauliflower, pasta, Italian Fontina, capers, sage, and other deliciousness into her casserole dish. Then she told me about the pecorino-panko topping that crisps in the oven and I somehow found myself printing the recipe and adding everything to my grocery list.

It did not disappoint! My picky eater husband even loved it. It's warm and nutty from the cheeses and cauliflower, salty from the capers, aromatic from the garlic and sage. The whole house smelled amazing. It made enough for leftovers and can be prepared a day ahead so you can pop it in the oven on a weeknight. Also, I doubled almost all the flavorings from the original recipe.


For the casserole:

3/4 LB Medium Shells Pasta

6 TBS Olive Oil or EVOO

2 1/2 LBS cauliflower (1 whole head or 2 bags florets), chopped real small

3 TBS fresh sage, chopped (I used a little more)

2 TBS drained capers

3-4 cloves garlic, minced (a little over 1 TBS)

zest of one lemon

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (use up to 1tsp if you like it hot)

3 tsp kosher salt

2 tsp ground black pepper

2 cups Italian Fontina cheese (not Danish!) - note: my store didn't have Italian Fontina so I used an american Fontina made by an Italian family

1 to 1 1/2 cups Ricotta

For the topping:

1/2 cup Panko Breadcrumbs

6 TBS grated Italian Pecorino cheese

1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 TBS olive oil


  1. Preheat oven to 400

  2. Bring salted pasta water to a boil in large pot. Cook pasta about 3 minutes less than the package says is "al dente". When the pasta is cooked, drain, and put in large bowl with the cauliflower

  3. While the pasta cooks, heat 3 TBS olive oil in a large skillet on HOT (Cast Iron works great). Add half the cauliflower to the pan and sauté, tossing occasionally (don't be afraid to leave it), until it's browned and/or charred to your liking. Transfer to large bowl with pasta. Repeat with 3 more TBS olive oil and remaining cauliflower.

  4. Add the sage, capers, garlic, lemon zest, crushed red pepper, salt & pepper to the bowl and toss very carefully. Once everything looks good and evenly coated, slowly add the Fontina.

  5. Transfer half the mixture to a deep 10x13 or 9x13 baking dish. Spoon dollops of Ricotta into the dish on top of the bottom layer. Top with remaining shells & cauliflower mixture.

  6. To assemble the topping - mix Panko breadcrumbs with pecorino cheese and fresh parsley, then drizzle with olive oil and toss until the breadcrumbs and cheese are evenly coated. Spread topping on casserole

  7. Bake at 400 for 25 to 30 minutes or until browned and crusty

Dish can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator overnight.


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