Cauliflower Pasta with Bacon and Parmesan

Sautéed cauliflower, onions, and bacon, tossed with pasta, Parmesan and toasted panko. So good!

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4


  • 3 to 4 ounces thick-cut sliced bacon, cut into half inch pieces
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 cups thinly sliced red onion (1 large red onion)
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic (about 3 cloves)
  • 4 cups small bite-sized cauliflower florets (see How to Cut and Core Cauliflower)
  • 1/2 pound cavatappi, gemelli, or fusilli dry pasta
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese


1 Bring salted water for pasta to a boil: Place a large pot of salted water (2 quarts of water, 1 Tbsp salt), on to the stove to boil. While the water is heating, continue with the recipe.

2 Cook the bacon: Place the bacon pieces in a large sauté pan on medium heat. Cook until lightly browned and much of the fat rendered, about 5-6 minutes. Remove the bacon from the pan to a bowl, retaining the fat in the pan.

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3 Brown the panko: While the bacon in step 2 is rendering, brown the panko in a separate skillet on medium high heat, stirring occasionally. When most of the panko is browned, remove from heat and place in a bowl. Stir in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon of pepper, the parsley and thyme. Set aside.

4 Cook the onions and garlic: Increase the heat to medium high. You'll want about a tablespoon to a tablespoon and a half of fat in the pan. If your bacon has not yielded that much fat, then add some olive oil to the pan. Add the sliced red onion. Cook until lightly browned, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook an minute more.

Remove the onions and garlic from the pan, adding them to the bowl with the bacon.

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5 Sauté the cauliflower: Add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and heat on high heat. Add the cauliflower florets and toss to coat with the olive oil. Brown on high heat for 5 minutes, and then lower the heat, cover, and cook for 5 more minutes, or until the cauliflower florets are cooked through and tender.


6 Cook the pasta: About the same time that you start cooking the cauliflower, add the pasta to the boiling pasta water. Cook the pasta at a rolling boil for 8 to 10 minutes, until cooked through, but still a little firm to the bite, al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta.

7 Combine bacon, onions, cauliflower, pasta, lemon zest, Parmesan: Add the bacon and onions into the pan with the cauliflower. Stir in the pasta, lemon zest, grated Parmesan. Drizzle in another tablespoon of olive oil.

Sprinkle with some of the reserved pasta water to loosen the pasta and cauliflower if it seems a bit dry. Serve topped with toasted seasoned breadcrumbs.

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  • Megan

    This was so good! We didn’t have bacon at home, so added some chicken sausage instead. We will definitely be making it again– even the three year old gobbled it up. Thank you!!


  • Megan Duffett

    I’m a little confused… Do I add the “Stir in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon of pepper, the parsley and thyme. Set aside.” to the breadcrumbs or to the pan? Also, how do I put it all together? Do I just add everything together?

    • Emma Christensen

      Hi, Megan! Yes, your “stir in” instruction is for the breadcrumbs — you stir these ingredients into the breadcrumbs after transferring them to the bowl. Assembly instructions are in the last step (Step 7) — you stir together the bacon, onions, cauliflower, pasta, lemon zest, and grated Parmesan, and then sprinkle the breadcrumbs over top. Enjoy!

  • Sue Dufour

    We made this tonight for dinner and it was delicious…a little time consuming but it was our first try and am sure the more we make this dish the less time consuming it will be and I know that we will in fact go back to this as one of our favourite….it was scrumptious.


  • Melanie Myers

    This is so delicious. My family loves it. It’s become a regular in our dinner rotations.


  • Katie

    Elise, this is the best pasta recipe I’ve ever had!!! Love it – the mixture of salty (bacon) & sweet (red onions) is amazing!


  • Peter

    Elise. Any idea of the nutritional values of this. I am trying to cut down on my intake and wonder what the Fat/Carbs/Fiber and Protein comes to per serving. I like this recipe and now that my wife will eat Cauliflower the bacon will be right up her alley. Yes, I want to plug it into Weight watchers

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Peter, sorry I do not! I’m sure there are some online services for figuring it out if you just Google it though.

  • Kate @ framed Cooks

    If cauliflower is the new kale, I think that calls for a serious party. I love cauliflower with a passion – always have and always will – in a way I could never love kale. (Sorry, kale lovers!). And this one has cheese and bacon!!! Definitely going on my to-make list! Meantime, here’s my own favorite cauliflower recipe – whipped cauliflower, which I promise – promise! – is even better than mashed potatoes. :)

  • Sharon SC

    You reserved a cup of pasta water but I don’t see it added in the recipe. Do you add it with the pasta. lemon and parmesan? This looks delicious…love cauliflower!

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Sharon, yes! Thanks for the reminder. You just add some of it at the end if the dish is looking a little dry.

  • Uneku

    Beautiful pictures. Can I use another type of cheese instead of Parmesan

  • Bill

    If you don’t care to cook the pasta, you could also cook some potatoes in the leftover bacon fat, and toss them with the cauliflower. Or just use two cans of drained and rinsed cannellini beans.

  • Brian

    I love me some cauliflower. Raw, roasted, steamed, any way I can get it, but I wonder – I have some broccoli in the fridge that needs to be used. Might try this recipe but just swap broccoli for cauliflower. Maybe adjust the saute time a bit. Do up some Italian sausage or brats on the grill and add a tossed salad – quick & easy meal!

  • Bill

    I don’t get it… Why am I cooking the cauliflower in olive oil when there’s all that nice bacon fat sitting there?

    • Elise Bauer

      If you have enough bacon fat rendered then you may not need to add olive oil.

  • Betsy Fitzpatrick

    Can’t wait to try this – YUM! For a delicious & mindless way to prepare cauliflower on weeknights, I love to simply roast it with a splash of olive oil and a bit of kosher salt until it’s nicely caramelized. Bonus: kids love it prepared this way.

  • Alison

    Yum! This is my kind of meal. I love cauliflower roasted with fennel seeds.

  • Simone

    I love cauliflower and it is amazing how it has taken so long for it to become popular but I guess it’s more or less the same here in the Netherlands where people are rediscovering cauliflower, I think in part due to the paleo hype.. I love it in dishes like yours but also in soup or as couscous/rice quickly baked. It’s so versatile!

  • Jonney Porter

    What about the Bacon grease that was saved?

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Jonney, thanks for your question! I clarified it in the recipe.