Cauliflower, in this case, amplifies the joys of a real, delightfully starchy pasta creation rather than standing in for one. Cauliflower creates the base for a creamy, rich, and completely dairy-free alfredo sauce, and the cauliflower florets you don’t use in the sauce are folded into the pasta, which means that you’ll get pockets of savory vegetable goodness between the penne. —Gena Hamshaw
penne pasta (you can use a gluten free penne, such as brown rice penne or quinoa penne, if desired)
medium head cauliflower, cut into small pieces and florets (about 7 to 8 cups, total)
to 3 small cloves garlic, minced or sliced
unsweetened almond, soy, or rice milk
fresh lemon juice
salt, or to taste
freshly ground black pepper
fresh green peas, blanched for 1 minute to soften (or frozen and thawed green peas)
vegan breadcrumbs (or vegan and gluten free breadcrumbs, such as Mary's Gone Crackers Just Crumbs)
Preheat your oven to 375° F. Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add the penne and cook, stirring every now and then, for 5 to 7 minutes, or until it's cooked through but still a little more al dente than you'd want if you were to eat it right away (you may need to adjust cooking time if you use a non-wheat pasta, so check package for cooking instructions and modify your cooking time accordingly). Drain pasta, reserving a few tablespoons of cooking water. Toss the pasta with the cooking water to help prevent sticking and set it aside.
Bring another pot of water to boil. Boil the cauliflower for about 5 to 6 minutes, or until it's tender. Drain. Place half of the florets into your blender, reserving the other half.
Heat the olive oil in a small pan over medium-low heat. Cook the garlic, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes, or until it's fragrant and cooked through, but not burning. Blend half of the cauliflower florets with the garlic, non-dairy milk, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. The sauce should be very smooth, so add extra milk or a drizzle of olive oil if needed to achieve a smooth texture.
Lightly oil a 9-x-13-inch baking dish. Toss the pasta, the remaining cauliflower florets, the peas, and all of the sauce together. Taste the mixture and add a dash of salt or pepper if desired. Transfer all ingredients to the baking dish. Top with the breadcrumbs. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until crumbs are toasted and the pasta is bubbly. Serve.
Gena is a registered dietitian, recipe developer, and food blogger. She's the author of three cookbooks, including Power Plates (2017) and Food52 Vegan (2015). She enjoys cooking vegetables, making bread, and challenging herself with vegan baking projects.