Romanesco is a fabulously freaky looking thing that tastes like a cross between cauliflower and broccoli. If broccoli florets look like little oak trees then romanesco florets are definitely mini Christmas trees.
This is basically a fusion of two iconic dishes. Macaroni Cheese (Mac & Cheese) and Cauliflower Cheese, which is cauliflower coated in a cheesy white sauce if you didn’t already know. Sometimes gratinated sometimes not. I think it’s a British thing. It’s good to get some extra vegetables in with all that cheeesy carbness so I added some spinach too. Good for the guilt I find.
This dish is great for using up all the little bits of different cheeses that you might have leftover especially at this time of year. I used some feta, goat’s cheese and grated Manchego. Clear out the fridge food is always satisfying.
The topping is actually the Hazelnut & Chestnut Dukkah that I made to go on my Moroccan Spiced Cauliflower Soup. The spicy Egyptian nutty crumble give this an extra kick of flavour but you could use breadcrumbs mixed with grated cheese and some spices if you like. The nuts give a nice crunch though. Worth the extra effort definitely.
Romanesco Rigatoni Cheese Bake with Dukkah Topping
Serves 3-4, vegetarian
You can substitute the cheeses for whatever bits you have around; Stilton, Gruyère, gorgonzola, mozzarella….
1/2 large romanesco (or cauliflower/broccoli), chopped into small florets
- 300 g wholemeal rigatoni
- 2 Tbsp flour (I used wholemeal spelt)
- 2 Tbsp dairy free spread or butter
- about 300 ml oat milk (or other milk)
- a good handful of grated manchego (or cheddar/parmesan..)
- 1/2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
- 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp dried chilli flakes (optional)
- salt & black pepper
- a big handful of fresh spinach leaves, chopped (about 100 g)
- 75 – 100 g Greek feta
- 75 – 100 g goats cheese
- about 50 g hazelnut dukkah (recipe here) or use breadcrumbs and grated cheese
- olive oil and breadcrumbs/flour
Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet in a large pan with lots of boiling salted water. About 4 or 5 minutes before it is cooked throw in the florets too. Cauliflower takes longer to cook than broccoli and romanesco so adjust accordingly. When the pasta is cooked and romanesco tender, drain the whole lot in a colander.
While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter/spread in a small pan over a medium heat. When it has melted add the flour, all in one go, and stir for a minute or so. It will form a thick paste, you need to cook the rawness out of the flour.
Add in the milk, stirring continuously, until incorporated, then continue stirring until the mixture thickens, about 3 minutes depending. When thickened, remove from the heat and stir in the grated cheese, rosemary, nutmeg, chilli flakes and season well with salt & black pepper. Set aside.
Pour the drained pasta and florets back into the large pan over a gentle heat and pour over the cheese sauce, stirring to combine. Add in the chopped spinach, stirring to wilt in the warm pasta then crumble (or grate) in the rest of the cheeses (I saved some feta for the top). Taste and adjust seasoning as required. Preheat oven to 200C.
Prepare one large or 3-4 individual ovenproof gratin dishes by rubbing the insides with oil and then dusting with flour or breadcrumbs. Pour the mixture into the dish(es), top with the reserved feta, a generous sprinkling of the dukkah (or grated cheese & breadcrumbs), drizzle with olive oil and bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until golden brown and crispy.
You can serve this on its own or with a bitter leaf salad to cut through the richness of the cheese. A mix of raddichio and rocket is nice with some olive oil and sweet balsamic vinegar.