Cheesy Baked Orecchiette with Cauliflower

4.50 from 2 votes
1 hour 25 minutes
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Cheesy Baked Orecchiette with Cauliflower, Bacon and Taleggio is comfort food with a touch of elegance!  It’s like adult mac and cheese!

Photo of Baked Orecchiette with Cauliflower, Bacon and Taleggio in white baking dish on white surface with bread in the background.

When I first moved to the Memphis area a little over 20 years ago, I almost wept when I saw the selection of grocery stores in this area.  This was long after the Jeremiah Tower/Alice Waters-inspired American food revolution!

I mean…. Had Memphis not heard there was a food revolution?  My husband tried to cushion my fall beforehand and told me that when you get to Memphis, turn your clock back 25 years.  Ugh.

Specialty ingredients were not to be found, but I married for love and suddenly had two stepkids, so I tried to tell myself…. Deal with it, sister.  Who needs anything but boxed macaroni and cheese right now anyway?

That was then.  This is now.  We now have amazing grocery stores and international markets popping like popcorn around here where I can find specialty ingredients like Tallegio cheese.  Orecchiette with Cauliflower, Bacon and Taleggio is nothing like your kid’s mac-and-cheese!

Photo of Baked Orecchiette with Cauliflower, Bacon and Taleggio with a wooden spoon taking a scoop from pan.

Regular white cauliflower is not a “specialty” vegetable, however, it’s now possible to find beautiful orange, purple and bright green cauliflower–even here!  Bacon certainly isn’t new either but it’s been on a roll that shows no sign of slowing down.

Here’s an ingredient that needs to have its day in the sun–Taleggio cheese!

Photo of a wedge of Tallegio cheese on white cheesecloth.

What is Taleggio cheese?

Taleggio has been around since the 9th century and is named after the valley of its origin.  It has an edible coarse rind with a rich, mellow taste.

If you can’t find Taleggio, brie or fontina make great substitutes.

Photo of orecchiette spilling out of bag.

I could not help myself when I came upon fresh, imported orecchiette (pronounced orek-yet-tee, meaning “small ears” or “little ears”) at Whole Foods.  Feel free to use any pasta shape you have around the house.  I like orecchiette for this dish because it acts like a little “scoop” which holds onto the creamy sauce.

Photo of Baked Orecchiette with Cauliflower, Bacon and Taleggio in white baking dish.

This dish can be assembled up to 24 hours in advance of baking and serving.  It’s going to be super cold coming right out of your refrigerator, so you may need to increase the baking time.

Let’s eat!

Close-up photo of Baked Orecchiette with Cauliflower, Bacon and Taleggio with wooden spoon removing some of the dish.

More baked pasta recipes you’ll love:

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Cheesy Baked Orecchiette with Cauliflower

4.50 from 2 votes

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By: Carol | From A Chef’s Kitchen
Cheesy Baked Orecchiette with Cauliflower, Bacon and Taleggio is comfort food with a touch of elegance!  It's like an adult mac and cheese!
Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 25 minutes
Course Pizza and Pasta
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4
Calories 719 kcal


  • 12 ounces orecchiette - fresh or dried
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil - divided, plus more for the baking dish
  • 5 cups cauliflower florets - approximately 1/2 large head
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper - to taste
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter - divided
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 cloves garlic - minced
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 8 ounces Taleggio cheese - rind removed and cut into small bits
  • Cayenne pepper - to taste
  • 4 pieces bacon - cooked and crumbled
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup panko
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley


  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush an 11 x 7-inch baking dish with oil. Set aside.
  • Cook orecchiette per package directions. Drain, toss with 1 tablespoon oil and set aside.
  • Toss cauliflower florets with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Spread out onto a baking sheet. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Roast for 12-15 minutes or until just beginning to soften and brown. Set aside.
  • Melt 4 tablespoons unsalted butter over medium-high heat. Add flour, reduce heat to low and cook 2-3 minutes, whisking constantly being careful not to brown the roux.
  • Add the wine and the garlic, whisking constantly.
  • Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly. Increase temperature to high, bring to a simmer then reduce heat to low and cook 3-4 minutes or until thickened.
  • Remove from heat and add the cheese, whisking until cheese has melted and been incorporated. Season to taste with salt, black pepper and cayenne.
  • Combine orecchiette, cauliflower, bacon and cheese sauce in a large bowl and mix well. Transfer to prepared baking dish.
  • In another small bowl, combine Parmesan cheese, panko, remaining butter and parsley. Sprinkle over pasta.
  • Cover with aluminum foil and bake 25-30 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake until crumb topping is turning golden and sauce is bubbling–approximately 10-15 minutes.
  • Let stand 5-10 minutes and serve.


MAKE AHEAD: Assemble up to 24 hours in advance and refrigerate. Let stand at room temperature for 30-45 minutes before baking or increase baking time.


Serving: 4 | Calories: 719kcal | Carbohydrates: 28g | Protein: 27g | Fat: 55g | Saturated Fat: 27g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 24g | Cholesterol: 127mg | Sodium: 1017mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 11g

These are estimated values generated from a nutritional database using unbranded products. Please do your own research with the products you’re using if you have a serious health issue or are following a specific diet.

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4.50 from 2 votes (2 ratings without comment)

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  1. Pasta being my one, true love, I am totally trying this one with this dish! Bacon, cauliflower and 9th century cheese all in one dish sounds like something delish! Hope it comes out as pretty as yours!

  2. This looks amazing, anything pasta is good by me. On my to make list. Haha, Carol I could be talking about myself, same thing only in Italy. And now stores are bigger, a lot more variety. But when I go home I still spend a lot of time in grocery stores with my mouth open. LOL.

  3. That looks so good, Carol! Taleggio is fantastic when melted, it has that pungent distinctive flavor that pairs well with vegetables. Love that you used orecchiette, not very many know how good they are 🙂 .