Autumn is rolling in (no matter what the weather is doing), and it’s time for comfort food. Some recent events also call for such things, at least in my life. So I put together this little treat. This dish seems like it ought to be heavy, but with such delicately flavored veggies, it’s really light as a feather.
½ cup pasta (I used a blend of things—rotelli, penne, etc.), gluten-free if you like
1 TBLSP olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced small
½ fennel bulb, large diced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 TBLSP all-purpose flour (or corn starch for gluten-free)
Pinch of fennel seeds (ground or whole)
Pinch of ground bay leaves (or other spice of your choosing)
Blop of Dijon-style mustard
¼ cup non-dairy milk (I use almond milk, but any will do)
Zest from half a lemon
2/3 cup cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
3 TBLSP grated faux cheese (I use Daiya mozzarella-style)
2 ½ TBLSP breadcrumbs (gluten-free bread works too)
1 ½ TBLSP faux parmesan cheese (or more mozzarella-style Daiya)
Juice from 1/3 of a lemon
Slosh of olive oil
Salt and Pepper
Heat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a larger pot than you need for such a small amount of pasta, cook the pasta in plenty of water. You can prepare the veggies while it cooks. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water, and then thoroughly drain the pasta and set it aside.
- Once the pasta is done, use the same pot to make the béchamel sauce. Heat the olive oil on medium high and then add the garlic and fennel. Season with salt and pepper, and stirring occasionally, cook it for 2-4 minutes, until softened and fragrant.
- Add the flour, fennel, bay leaves, and mustard and cook, stirring frequently for another 1-2 minutes. If it seems too dry, add a bit more olive oil.
- When the flour is golden and the spices are fragrant, add the faux milk and reserved cooking water. Season with salt and pepper again. Stir occasionally over the next 3-4 minutes, while the sauce thickens up a bit.
- Add in the cauliflower, zest and faux cheese, and season with salt and pepper yet again (this sauce really needs seasoning). Cook for 2-4 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender. Remove from the heat.
- Off the heat, stir the cooked pasta into the pot of deliciousness, and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a baking dish. (You may have enough for a second small casserole for tomorrow.)
- In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs with the faux parmesan (or more daiya) and squeeze the lemon over the top of it. Add a slosh of olive oil and stir to combine well.
- Spread the breadcrumb mixture over the top of the casserole.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown and slightly crispy on top. Let it stand for 2 minutes before devouring.
- Use broccoli or asparagus instead of cauliflower.
- Add cut up meatless sausages, Unbacon or some form of crumbled seitan.
- Give it ethnic seasonings by adding garum masala (Indian), curry (Indian), ground cumin (Mexican), or oregano (Italian) instead of fennel seeds and bay leaf.