It’s a lot like mac and cheese but a little bit greener.
Baked pasta is one of my favorite dishes. Or, rather, baked pasta is one of my favorite ways to consume cheese, therefore making it one of my favorite dishes. There’s something inherently nostalgic, joyful even, about pasta bakes—the cheesiness, the crispy edges, the oddly satisfying squelching sound of the sauce being stirred into the pasta. While macaroni and cheese is probably the most beloved iteration, pasta bakes come in many forms.
My take on baked pasta pairs hearty winter vegetables like cauliflower and kale with a creamy sauce and a very generous topping of feta cheese for spanakopita vibes. It has all the richness of my favorite macaroni and cheese—only lighter, brighter, and a little bit greener. It may be hard to imagine that vegetables ever made anything more fun, particularly mac and cheese, but bear with me. Cauliflower and kale cut through some of the richness of the sauce, making it easier to take bites directly from the pan. The Parmesan-and-feta-packed cream sauce gets a lift from lemon zest and parsley, which double down on feta’s tangy and salty flavor while adding a little extra freshness.
As usual, I’ve tried to keep this recipe low in the number of dishes it requires. It’s not quite a one-pot wonder, but the veggies and sauce get cooked in the same skillet that eventually holds the entire dish. I prefer to use a cast iron skillet or braising dish that can easily go from stove to oven. Be sure to choose a short, chunky pasta that will hold the sauce well—rigatoni, penne, or shells will do perfectly. Most important, remember that the star of any good pasta bake is the cheese. All the other ingredients play important but supporting roles, so be sure to find a feta you love, be it made from cow’s, sheep’s, or goat’s milk. I’m partial to the mild saltiness of cow feta myself, though one made from sheep’s milk is tangier and more traditional.
For some reason, dishes like this are best enjoyed in front of the TV or standing over the stove and eaten straight from the pan. I don’t make the rules, just the recipes.