Dairy free cauliflower cheese pasta bake

Cauliflower cheese and macaroni cheese are both comfort food classics, but don’t tend to feature so highly on the dairy free or healthy eating lists.  However, this is my dairy free take inspired by both dishes, which is also packed with vegetables, uses olive oil rather than butter and ends up being considerably lighter than the original dishes.  It also passed my husbands taste test: as a cheese lover who is a bit suspicious of “healthy” food I was worried that he would feel that he was being short-changed, but he actually liked this “cheesey” tasting sauce so much he asked for it again the next week.

Dairy free cauliflower cheese pasta bake

Cooking time: 20 minutes preparation and assembly, 20-30 minutes baking

Dietary info: vegan

Serves: 3-4 depending on how much pasta you put in

  • Pasta shapes (egg free pasta if you want to make this vegan) – 50g for a light bake, 100-150g for a more substantial meal (weights are for dried pasta, double them for fresh pasta)
  • 1 cauliflower, cut into chunks and steamed
  • 20g grated vegan cheese (you can of course use normal cheese if you aren’t trying to make this dairy free) – optional

“Cheese” sauce

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp wholemeal flour
  • 2 tsp cornflour
  • 600ml unsweetened almond milk
  • 4 tsp malt extract
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 4 tbsp lemon juice (about 1 medium lemon)
  1. Put the oil and two flours in a saucepan and stir to combine.
  2. Heat gently until the flour oil mixture starts to dry out, then take off the heat and stir in a few tablespoons of the almond milk and mix to a smooth sauce.  Return to the heat and gradually add all but a few tbsp of the remaining almond milk, stirring constantly to avoid lumps.
  3. Mix the malt extract with the remaining almond milk to make it easier to stir into the main sauce.  You may want to warm it for 30-60s in the microwave to further soften the malt extract.  Add the malt extract / almond milk to the sauce and bubble until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  4. Stir the soy and lemon juice into the sauce.
  5. Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions and drain.
  6. Steam the cauliflower until it is tender (8-12 minutes)
  7. Combine the pasta, cauliflower and half of the sauce in an ovenproof dish and sprinkle the cheese on top (if using).
  8. Bake at 160C fan for 20-30 minutes until it is golden brown and crispy on top. Serve with the remaining sauce to drizzle over.

A few tips to prep ahead:

  • The whole bake can be made a few days ahead and kept, covered, in the fridge, then all you need to do on the night is put it straight into the oven.
  • If you don’t want to make the whole dish ahead of time, the “cheese” sauce can be made and kept for up to a week in a sealed container in the fridge.

Some tasty little twists…

You can vary this bake by adding other vegetables, such as broccoli, sweetcorn, chopped tomatoes, peas, or sliced peppers, or even adding something like bacon or chicken if you want a non-vegan option.  You could also replace the pasta with beans or lentils.

The cheese sauce is delicious in many different dishes: in vegetable, cheese or pasta bakes; replacing the bechamel in lasagna; as a salad dressing; as a sauce for pasta or gnocchi; or a sauce on the side of grilled vegetables, meat or fish. Here is one option: a lighter tomato and cheese spaghetti  dish.  This tomato sauce would also be nice on the side of the cauliflower cheese pasta bake above instead of the extra cheese sauce.

Dairy free tomato and “cheese” spaghetti courgetti

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Dietary info: vegan

Serves: 2-3 depending on how much spaghetti you use

  • 1 courgette, spiralised (or 2 courgettes if you don’t use any spaghetti)
  • 80g dried spaghetti, or 125g fresh spaghetti
  • 300g mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 quantity cheese sauce from above

Tomato sauce:

  • 1 packet passata (500ml)
  • 1 vegetable stock cube (make sure it is dairy free if you want to make this dairy free / vegan)
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp celery
  • Juice of ½ a lemon
  1. Cook the spaghetti (if using) according to packet instructions and drain.
  2. Combine all the tomato sauce ingredients, except for the lemon juice, and either heat in a saucepan until it comes to the boil then simmer for 2-3 minutes, or cook for 3 minutes, covered, in the microwave and stir to combine thoroughly.
  3. Stir the lemon juice into the tomato sauce.
  4. Put the mushrooms and about a third of the tomato sauce into a non-stick frying pan and cook for 3-4 minutes until they are starting to soften then add the courgetti continue to cook, over a medium heat, covered for a further 3-4 minutes until the courgetti is just softening but still has a bit of crunch to it.
  5. Stir in the spaghetti and serve with the remaining tomato sauce and the cheese sauce to drizzle over.
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