In honor of all the celebs depriving themselves to fit into their gowns, we opted to make a decadent baked pasta for our Oscar-watching party. We got several requests for the recipe via Instagram, and we’re only too happy to oblige.
2 heads cauliflower, broken into florets
2 lbs. rigatoni or other short pasta
4 T olive oil
1 lb. sausage (optional)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 bunches Tuscan kale, roughly chopped (you can use any dark leafy greens here—Swiss chard would also work nicely)
1/8 t ground nutmeg
1 lb. mozzarella, chopped
1 quart whole milk
1 stick butter plus extra for greasing
6 T flour
1/2 lb. Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Blanch the cauliflower for about 5 minutes. Drain cauliflower but do not dump out the water. Place cauliflower in a large mixing bowl. Using the reserved water, boil the pasta for about half the recommended cooking time, then drain and add to bowl (now you can throw out the water).
Meanwhile, heat 2 T olive oil in a large skillet. Remove the sausage from its casing and crumble into the pan. Cook for about 10 minutes and add to bowl with the pasta and cauliflower.
Add the remaining 2 T olive oil to the pan, and sauté the onion for about 8 minutes, until soft but not browned. Add the kale and nutmeg and sauté until tender, about 10 minutes (cover the pan to cook the kale more quickly without drying it out). Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove and add to pasta and caulifower mixture. Add the chopped mozzarella to the bowl and stir to combine.
Now, make the béchamel: Heat the milk in a heavy-duty saucepan until hot but not boiling. In another heavy-bottomed pan, melt the butter, then add the flour, whisking together. Cook for about two minutes, then turn off the heat. Add hot milk to butter a few tablespoons at a time till you’ve added about 1/4 cup, then add 1/4 cup at a time, continuing to whisk together. Once you’ve added all the milk, add about 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook on low heat, whisking often, until liquid is the consistency of heavy cream. Remove from heat and add to pasta and cauliflower mixture.
Grease two 9x12 glass or metal baking dishes. Spoon about 1/4 of the pasta mixture into each, and top each with 1/4 of the Parmigiano and salt to taste. Spoon the remainder of the pasta into the baking dishes, and finish with another sprinkling of salt and the rest of the Parmigiano.
Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for approximately 40 minutes. Uncover and finish baking for another 20 minutes or so, until the top is golden brown but not too crunchy. If you don’t cover from the beginning, it will. Get. Too. Crunchy. We learned the hard way.
We enjoyed this alongside a duo of winter salads—shaved fennel with celery root, pear, roasted walnuts, and parsley, and mixed greens with radicchio, avocado, and blood orange. Followed by (obviously) ice cream, angel food cake, and whipped cream! An award-winning meal.
Round out your next dinner party with these stylish appetizers that you can whip up in 10 minutes or less.