Crusty Baked Shells and Cauliflower

The Barefoot Contessa has a new cooking show on television. This makes me very happy.

There are eight episodes of Ina Garten teaching us to Cook Like a Pro and I sat and watched them all, one after another, last week. Not Netflix and chill, but Barefoot Contessa and grill maybe? Actually, I don’t remember any grilling, but you get the picture. Three-ish hours of the bliss of watching Ina make delicious food so when I eventually get up off the couch I’m inspired to make something tasty to eat.

This recipe is from Cooking for Jeffrey. While I’ve read that book (all her books actually), watching reminded me to make this immediately. Cauliflower, already a favourite is pan-fried (which makes it about 100 times superior to steaming it) then added to pasta and three kinds of cheese… what’s better than that?

Here’s what happened:

Found the pasta shells.

Pasta shells.

Chopped a head of cauliflower and sautéed it.

Chopped cauliflower.

While the cauliflower was getting extra-tasty, got some prep done.

Got the sage and chopped it.


Chopped three cloves of garlic.


Measured the red pepper flakes.

Red pepper flakes.

Zested a half teaspoon of lemon skin.

Lemon zest.

Measured a tablespoon of capers.


Mixed those plus some salt and pepper together.

Spices and herbs and aromatics.

There was enough time left to grate the Fontina cheese.

Grated Fontina.

All the cauliflower looked like this when it was finished.

Pan-fried cauliflower.

The pasta was drained.

Drained pasta.

All the pasta and cauliflower and aromatics and Fontina went into a big bowl, then half of it was poured into a baking dish.

Half the mixture.

Stirred the ricotta cheese so it was ready.

Ricotta cheese.

Placed spoonfuls of ricotta over the first layer.

Strategically placed ricotta.

Topped the ricotta with the rest of the pasta-cauliflower mixture.

Remaining mixture.

Measured the panko crumbs.


Grated the Pecorino cheese.

Grated Pecorino.

Combined those two ingredients with olive oil to make the topping.

Add olive oil.

Sprinkled the topping over and got the casserole into the oven.

Ready for the oven.

Thirty minutes later.

One scoopful.

Crusty Baked Shells and Cauliflower. Delicious!

Crusty Baked Shells and Cauliflower.

The recipe’s from Cooking for Jeffrey by Ina Garten and here too:

Crusty Baked Shells and Cauliflower


Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound medium pasta shells
Good olive oil
2 1/2 pounds cauliflower, cut into small florets (1 large head)
3 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh sage leaves
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups freshly grated Italian Fontina Val d’Aosta cheese, lightly packed (10 ounces with rind)
1 cup (8 ounces) fresh ricotta
1/2 cup panko (Japanese bread flakes)
6 tablespoons freshly grated Italian Pecorino cheese
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Fill a large pot with water, add 2 tablespoons salt, and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook al dente, according to the instructions on the package. Since it will be baked later, don’t overcook it! Drain and pour into a very large bowl.

Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12-inch) saute pan over medium-high heat, add half the cauliflower in one layer, and saute for 5 to 6 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the florets are lightly browned and tender. Pour the cauliflower, including the small bits, into the bowl with the pasta. Add 3 more tablespoons of oil to the saute pan, add the remaining cauliflower, cook until browned and tender, and add to the bowl.

Add the sage, capers, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper to the bowl and stir carefully. Stir in the Fontina. Transfer half of the mixture to a 10 x 13 x 2-inch rectangular baking dish. Spoon rounded tablespoons of ricotta on the pasta and spoon the remaining pasta mixture on top. Combine the panko, Pecorino, parsley, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small bowl and sprinkle it evenly on top. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until browned and crusty on top. Serve hot.


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