I first made this recipe for Cauliflower Bolognese on Christmas Eve a couple years ago, before COVID was common when Linnie was still stowed safely inside my stretchy stomach. I chopped the mushrooms and riced the cauliflower and overcooked the cauliflower and maybe the tomato paste, too. Even still, I set the bolognese down on the dinner table, late but proud. It was a work of art. But it must have been a work of art too modern for these people as they turned up their nose. Maybe it was the mushrooms. It had to be the mushrooms.
Years later and here I am still fiddling with this recipe, mostly because it’s packed with hidden vegetables (not mushrooms) and borderline fancy (maybe only for the name). It comes together fast, and the people, especially the tiniest ones, slurp it up. I give you, Quick Cauliflower Bolognese made mostly from pantry staples, plenty of vegetables, and ready in 30 minutes.
Open the pantry and grab the tomato paste, pasta, garlic, onions, and red wine. Open the fridge, too, and grab the milk, parmesan, carrots, and lemon. You’ll probably need to get a small head of cauliflower plus some fresh basil and rosemary from the grocery store. The fresh herbs and the lemon zest bring this pantry-friendly Quick Cauliflower Bolognese recipe to life. Don’t skip them if you can help it.
Here’s what we’ll end up with—a saucy vegetarian bolognese made entirely from meaty vegetables like cauliflower, carrots, and sweet onions. Note: I almost exclusively cook with sweet onions for their touch of sweetness, so sweet they don’t make me cry while cutting. However, we’re going to skip chopping altogether for this recipe. Except for the rosemary and garlic. We’re gonna have to chop the rosemary and garlic.
So pull out your food processor and grate the onions and the carrots and the cauliflower. All the veggies are prepped and chopped in under 5 minutes, which is good because time is always of the essence at 4:50 when the toddler is shouting “Eat!” and the 8-year-old is on her second or third snack after barely eating at school all day. You can also grate these vegetables in advance if you have a chunk of time. And we persist.
From here, this Quick Cauliflower Bolognese is prepped throughout with very little stoppage time. So while one thing cooks, another thing is prepped. It’s one part workout and another part efficient. But the best part, at the end of this dinner workout, is dinner—a dinner loaded with vegetables that everyone eats.
May the fiddles of this Quick Cauliflower Bolognese recipe and swirly pasta noodles be pleasing to you. Amen.
This meaty vegetarian Quick Cauliflower Bolognese is ready in under 30 minutes and made mostly from pantry staples, minus the fresh herbs and lemon zest. Don’t skip them if you can help it! For this recipe, we’ll prep one thing while the other thing cooks to make it as efficient as possible and get dinner on the table stat.
1/2–1 lb. of your favorite pasta, such as pappardelle*
1 c. grated carrot (about 1 large carrot)
1 c. grated sweet onion (about 2/3 large onion)
3–4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 1/2 tsp. coarse kosher salt, divided
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 c. tomato paste
1 1/2 c. grated cauliflower (about 1/2 small head)
1/2 c. whole milk
1/3 c. red wine (like a cabernet)
1–2 c. pasta water
1/3 c. grated parmesan, plus more for serving
1/2 tsp. lemon zest
Make the pasta. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, salt the water liberally before adding in the pasta. Cook according to pasta instructions until al dente, making sure to reserve about 2 cups of pasta water before draining. We’ll finish cooking the pasta in the sauce.
Make the sauce. Start by grating the carrot and sweet onion in a food processor. This can be done at the same time and ahead of time. In a wide-bottom saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-low heat. Add the grated carrots and onions and sauté for about 5 minutes or until translucent. If browning, turn down the heat. Stir in about 1/3 of the salt.
Meanwhile, prep the garlic and rosemary. After the sauté mixture has cooked for about 5 minutes, stir in the garlic, rosemary, and red pepper flakes. Cook for another minute, adding additional oil as needed.
Then, stir in the tomato paste and spread in an even layer along the bottom of the pan. Turn the heat up to medium and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, to lightly toast. The sugars in the tomato paste will start to caramelize and begin to stick to the bottom of the pan. Meanwhile, rice/grate the cauliflower.
Next, stir in the cauliflower, milk, red wine, and remaining salt. Bring to a simmer and cook while the pasta finishes cooking. Reserve about 2 cups of the starchy pasta water. Add 1 cup into the sauce to thin and simmer for another 5 minutes. Stir in the cooked pasta and parmesan and cook for another minute or two to heat through. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon zest for brightness. Taste and add additional salt as needed.
To serve, garnish with additional parmesan and basil.
*For a saucier pasta, use less pasta and vice versa.
Tip: To quickly clean the bits of parmesan clinging to the bottom of the pan, wash with cold water. This helps to solidify and harden the cheese for easy removal.