It’s hard to pick favorites when it comes to creamy vegetarian pasta recipes, but this cauliflower and orange pasta is up there.
Inspired by my all-time favorite Cauliflower Orange Gnocchi from Bar la Grassa in Minneapolis, and adapted from Pinch of Yum’s version, this cauliflower pasta recipe is luxurious, yet light, and full of nutritious veggies, but you wouldn’t even know it.
Instead of gnocchi, we’re using high-quality dried pasta for a lighter alternative. Swirled together with thinly sliced cauliflower and subtle orange notes throughout, it’s an unexpected combination that will WOW you, your family, and whomever else you enjoy this delicious dinner with!
As we do around here, we’re keeping the ingredient list simple. Yet simple means nothing short of exceptional, as each ingredient works together to create the most irresistible pasta around. Of course, cauliflower and fresh orange are in the spotlight.
- Thinly Sliced Cauliflower: more on this in a minute, the thin slices of cauliflower plus the crumbly bits roast up, becoming ever-so tender. In the end, they cook down into the sauce, keeping their presence subtle yet magical.
- Fresh Orange: be sure to grab a fresh orange for this recipe, because you’ll need both the zest and the juice.
- Yellow Onion (or shallot) and Garlic: an aromatic base to start the layers of flavor! When I ran the poll on Instagram, over 50% of the voters said they would use either a yellow onion or shallot whichever they had. The other 50% were split evenly between the two. I find shallots really elevate a dish, but yellow/sweet onions are more accessible, so use whichever!
- Half and Half: makes our sauce scrumptiously silky! Feeling extra indulgent? Use heavy cream!
- Linguini Noodles: I like how these noodles swirl in the sauce, but feel free to substitute a tubular shape or fettuccini noodles, too. Or, make homemade using the tips in my homemade pasta dough post!
How to Thinly Slice Cauliflower
The key to this recipe is using a mandoline or food processor with a slice attachment to thinly slice the cauliflower. It roasts up with crispy bits and is so tender it melts into the pasta for a beautiful texture. SO GOOD.
- Remove the leaves from a head of cauliflower.
- Cut the cauliflower into quarters. From each quarter, cut out just enough of the “chunky” core, but not too much. You’ll want to leave the quarter intact.
- Use a mandoline or a food processor with the slice attachment for the fastest results. On my hand-held mandoline, I use the 3rd (largest) setting. Start with the cut side of the quartered cauliflower and thinly slice it. Using this side of the cauliflower will result in really pretty slices.
You can also thinly slice the cauliflower by hand. Carefully hold each section and cut into slices no more than 1/4 inch thick.
The cauliflower will crumble, more or less depending on how tight the florets were to begin with. This is totally ok and we will use the crumbles too!
This recipe uses 4 cups sliced cauliflower. If you have a small enough head of cauliflower, you’ll probably use it all. For leftover cauliflower, use it in a batch of broccoli cauliflower cheese soup, the next morning in a sweet potato breakfast hash, or in one of our other cauliflower recipes.
How to Make Cauliflower Pasta
We are prepped and ready to make a delicious dinner, and in just around 30 minutes it will be on the table!
It’s no secret that around here, we’re big fans of starting with the aromatics so they have time to soften and create *the most* flavorful base for our pasta sauce. So, that’s where we’re beginning, friends. With melted butter (go for the good stuff here), the diced onion sautes to start.
After a few minutes, add the cauliflower. It will seem like a lot of volume. Your pan may overfloweth with cauliflower. It will cook down though; you’ll be amazed that these paper-thin cauliflower slices act just like spinach in this instance.
Make sure the cauliflower is in an even layer as much as possible, and let it cook – mostly undisturbed – for the first 8 minutes. This is going to create some caramelized action with some lovely golden brown roasted bits.
Stir it up and add in more flavor elements: red pepper flakes, ground nutmeg, and orange zest.
For a more intense orange flavor, add the zest towards the end.
Meanwhile, the pasta is cooking away until it’s just under al dente, so it can finish in the sauce to perfection.
Half and half goes into the sauce, which will thicken it in addition to making it nice and creamy. The starch in the pasta water will also help thicken it while ensuring it adheres to the noodles. Use the liquids to adjust the creaminess of the sauce to your liking. Just be sure to taste test and add salt as needed!
Toss it all together and serve it up with fresh chives. The subtle herb adds an ideal balance of freshness with the pasta and balances everything out SO well. If you don’t have chives, try fresh parsley.
So the chives are a must, but if you’re looking for additional crunch, chopped walnuts also work well as a garnish, and you know you can’t go wrong with toasted breadcrumbs.
Serve this pasta dish alongside a simple side salad, with roasted asparagus, or the easiest green beans (frozen from the air fryer!). It works well with a green veggie to balance out the richness of the pasta.
Or, you know, just enjoy the pasta as the star of the night.
Did you make this recipe? Please leave a star rating and review in the form below. I appreciate your feedback, and it helps others, too!
Get the Recipe 30-Minute Creamy Cauliflower and Orange Pasta
- 4 Tablespoons butter
- 1 cup yellow onion or shallot, diced
- 4 cups cauliflower*, thinly sliced
- 16 ounces dried linguini noodles
- 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tablespoon orange zest, from 1 orange
- Pinch Red pepper flakes
- ¼-½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ cup orange juice, from 1 orange
- ½ cup half and half
- 1 cup reserved pasta water
- Salt, to taste
- Fresh chives, chopped, for garnish
- Prepare a large pot of salted water for the pasta and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the diced onion and a pinch of salt. Cook for about 2 minutes, then add the cauliflower and stir to coat. Spread the cauliflower in an even layer to encourage browning.4 Tablespoons butter, 1 cup yellow onion or shallot, 4 cups cauliflower*
- After the cauliflower has cooked for about 8 minutes, add the pasta to the boiling water. Cook for 1-2 minutes under al dente, according to the package directions.16 ounces dried linguini noodles
- Let the cauliflower cook for 2 more minutes, then add garlic, orange zest, nutmeg, and red pepper flakes along with another generous pinch of salt.3-4 cloves garlic, 1 Tablespoon orange zest, Pinch Red pepper flakes, ¼-½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Cook for about 2 minutes, then deglaze the pan with orange juice, reducing for 1-2 minutes. Slowly stir in the half and half, and lower the heat to low as you wait for the pasta to finish cooking.½ cup orange juice, ½ cup half and half
- Be sure to reserve 1 cup of pasta water before draining the pasta. Stir about 1/2 cup into the sauce to start, increasing the heat to medium for a low simmer.1 cup reserved pasta water
- Drain the pasta (but do not rinse) or scoop out and directly transfer the pasta to the sauce. Toss the pasta with the sauce, adding up to an additional 1/2 cup of pasta water as needed for desired consistency. Cook for another 1-2 minutes until pasta is al dente. Be sure to taste test and adjust salt levels as needed!Salt
- Garnish with fresh chives (or parsley) and fresh orange zest as desired. Also great with chopped walnuts or toasted breadcrumbs. Relax, and enjoy every silky bite!Fresh chives
- *Thinly slice the cauliflower using a hand-held mandoline (I use mine on the thickest setting) or a food processor with the slice attachment. You can also thinly slice the cauliflower by hand. Carefully hold each section and cut into slices no more than 1/4 inch thick.
- Storage: any leftover pasta can be kept in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 4-5 days. Reheat with a little extra cream or water to reconstitute the sauce.