Before we get to this insanely delicious yet healthy carbonara pasta bake, I want to tell you this:
I am an ex-professional ballet dancer turned food-loving writer.
Just hearing that sentence balloons my soul with pride. Not only because I was able to let go of a lifelong dream with hopes that just maybe there was a happier path for me but also because I see the pure unabashed freedom in it.
That sentence reflects the freedom of my new life back to me. The freedom to express exactly what I want to express without a male director telling me exactly how to move, how to think, how to be. But more importantly, it reflects the freedom for me to eat whatever the fuck I want now.
I remember days as a ballet dancer when I’d try to get through an 8 hour dancing day on a grande soy latte and a banana. I remember diets of prune juice and raw tomatoes. I remember watching the Food Network to try to fill my belly up.
Luckily, by letting go of a once stubborn and mandatory dream, I found the joy of food. I am certain food is one, if not the, greatest pleasures. Do not try to argue with me on this one. I believe a bowl of spaghetti can heal a bad day, I believe a failed attempt at the perfect roasted chicken can bring you closer to your boyfriend.
And while I pride myself on being free from diets now, that doesn’t mean I can eat ten buckets of creamy, buttery carbonara every night like I’d like to. This is why I love developing recipes that taste indulgent but are actually healthy. This Healthy Carbonara Pasta Bake is one of those recipes. It will fill you up and warm your soul without leaving you feeling like you need to hit the gym the next day.
The cauliflower sauce is the magic ingredient to this dish. It allows you to cut the butter and heavy cream but still leaves you with a rich, flavorful sauce. And the pancetta? Oh boy. You just need a little to infuse the pasta bake with a smokey, salty, decadent touch.
I whip this up on Sunday nights and eat (read: devour) it throughout the week. Enjoy!
Healthy Carbonara Pasta Bake
This healthy carbonara dish is made with a cauliflower sauce to avoid the heavy cream and butter. Rich but healthy, it will become a new favorite pasta dish.
- 1 bag cauliflower frozen
- 1/2 cup chicken broth low sodium
- 1/2 cup milk low fat
- 3/4 cup parmesan grated
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 3-4 cloves garlic chopped
- 4-5 ounces pancetta 1/4 inch thick, chopped
- 1 cup shredded chicken (optional) from rotisserie chicken
- 1 tsp salt plus more to taste
- 1/2 tsp pepper plus more to taste
- 1/2 tsp chili flakes optional
- 1/3 cup peas frozen
- 1 lb whole wheat penne pasta
Preheat oven to 350. Cook the frozen cauliflower according to the package's microwave directions.
Add 1 tbsp of olive oil to a pan over medium heat. Saute your garlic for about 1-2 minutes, until golden but not burned.
Add the cauliflower, chicken broth, milk, 1/4 cup parmesan, salt, pepper, and garlic with its olive oil to a blender. Blend until it creates a sauce-like consistency.
Saute the pancetta in the same pan you sauteed your garlic in. There's no need to add more oil. Cook until browned. Remove from pan and place on a plate with a paper towel to absorb the grease.
Meanwhile, bring a generously salted pot of water to boil. Cook the pasta according to the package's directions. Be sure to keep al dente. Strain the pasta.
Add the pasta to a greased (olive oil spray) 9X13 baking dish. Add the cauliflower sauce, pancetta, peas, chili flakes, and chicken. Stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Sprinkle 1/4-1/2 cup of parmesan on top.
Bake covered with foil for 20 minutes. Remove foil and broil for 5 more minutes to get the cheese nice and crispy.