LEFTOVERS PASTA BAKE with Creamy Cauliflower Sauce

11th June 2019


I seriously love leftovers. They make excellent next-day lunches, saving time and money (less buying lunch on the run), and can extend meals over several days. When prepping dinner, I often cook extra greens ready to add to a broth or soup the next evening or to fold through a weeknight pasta bake.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook, but when you combine work plus ferrying kids around to after-school activities, and walk in the door at 5 pm or later, having half the dinner pre-made makes this time of day much smoother.

Today I share a recipe that has many variations. For this version, I used leftover roast chicken and kale, but I have also made it with smoked fish (my husband’s preference) and broccoli, and vegetarian with more greens, roasted pumpkin and pumpkin seeds.

When I cook a whole chicken, I like to stretch it over three family-of-four meals. The first night I butterfly (spatchcock) the chicken and roast until golden. The leftover meat is then added to a curry or pasta bake the following evening, then I make chicken soup for the soul from the bones.

This pasta bake is held together with a creamy cauliflower sauce – similar to a bechamel if I can make that comparison. With family meal planning I like to keep the focus on vegetables as much as possible, and often bulk meals out with extra vegetables or pulses such as lentils.

Admittedly, my children don’t love all vegetables. But I have noticed as their palettes grow and mature, they are more open to trying new food. I do wonder if our own model of eating a variety of vegetables at every meal has made a difference? That interminable question rises again: is it nature or nurture that defines us?

* Balinese Chicken Curry with Lemongrass, Lime Leaf & Galangal
* Lamb Goulash with Horopito or Bay Leaf

Leftovers Pasta Bake with Creamy Cauliflower Sauce

This flour-free sauce relies on the creamy sweet flesh (once cooked) of cauliflower to thicken. Although quite different to a classic white sauce it brings structure to the pasta bake with a lighter texture that works surprisingly well.
Servings 4
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes


  • 250 g pasta spirals – can use gluten-free pasta
  • Olive oil
  • Small head of broccoli or a small bunch of kale
  • About 400g leftover roasted chicken or smoked fish, shredded

Creamy cauliflower sauce

  • Small head of cauliflower, about 800g, roughly chopped
  • 1 ½ cups milk or vegetable stock
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Cracked pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • A handful of grated parmesan
  • A squeeze of lemon juice
  • ½ cup grated cheddar cheese
  • Handful sunflower seeds


  • Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water until al dente. Drain in a colander, toss with olive oil, and set aside.
  • Steam the broccoli or kale (if not leftover), place in a saucepan, and add a splash of water and a generous pinch of salt. Cover and cook over a moderate heat until just tender. It will cook more in the oven so don't overcook. Drain any cooking water (there won't be much), and set aside.
  • To make the cauliflower sauce, place the cauliflower pieces, milk or stock and salt into a large saucepan. Cover and bring to a gentle simmer and cook until very soft. Remove from the heat and use a stick blender or blender to puree until smooth.
  • Add the cracked pepper, nutmeg, parmesan, and lemon juice, and stir to combine. Taste and adjust flavour with extra seasoning, parmesan or lemon juice as needed.
  • Add the cooked pasta, shredded chicken or smoked fish, and vegetables to the sauce and combine well. Pour into a 25x30cm baking dish and scatter with grated cheese and seeds. Bake for 30 minutes until heated through and the cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve hot with a green salad or coleslaw.

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