Creamy and savory, this conchiglie pasta in cauliflower béchamel sauce with kale and corn is as yummy as it is healthy. The creamy and light béchamel sauce is dairy-free, vegan and oil-free, so feel free to drench your pasta with it.
Béchamel sauce, or besciamella in Italian, is a white sauce traditionally made of butter, milk and flour. This "mother sauce" is used in many different dishes, like lasagne.
This cauliflower béchamel sauce is a vegan, low calorie alternative that does not require fat to bring the sauce together, but is inspired by traditional white sauce. We've used it to smother conchiglie (shells) pasta, kale and corn.
🧄 Ingredient notes
- Conchiglie pasta - shell pasta works really well with the creamy béchamel sauce, since the concave shape of the pasta scoops up the sauce, along with the small pieces of corn and kale.
- Kale - Use chopped curly green or purple kale. Surprisingly delicious in pasta, we frequently add kale to our vegan mac and cheese, too. If you're not a fan of kale on it's own, give it a try with pasta. You might be surprised at it's tenderness and how well the slight bitterness pairs so well with the sweet corn and silky creamy pasta.
- Corn - Use sweet corn kernels, either frozen or canned (drain them, if using canned)
- Cauliflower - Fresh cauliflower makes up the bulk of the sauce, so it is a light and veggie-loaded option for a pasta sauce. Use pre-cut cauliflower florets to save time prepping.
- Ground nutmeg - a pinch of nutmeg is authentic and traditional to béchamel sauces, but you can omit it, if you don't have it. Also, only use a pinch! Don't go overboard.
📋 Substitutions and variations
Here are some suitable substitutions for the ingredients:
- Conchiglie pasta - use medium shells (another name for Italian conchiglie) or another medium sized pasta, like casarecce, gemelli, penne, rotini, gigli or campanelle. You could also use whole wheat or gluten-free pasta instead, if you prefer.
- Cauliflower - use 32 ounces (2 pounds or about 8-9 cups) frozen cauliflower florets/pieces instead of fresh
- Garlic cloves - substitute with minced garlic (1-2 teaspoons) or ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- Ground nutmeg - omit if you don't have it
- Almond milk - substitute with another unsweetened, unflavored plant-based milk like oat milk, soy milk. You'll want to use a neutral-tasting milk here.
- Kale - substitute with spinach, swiss chard or other greens, broccoli or frozen California blend, frozen green peas, cooked asparagus, cooked mushrooms
Here are some ideas for variations on this recipe:
- Creamy broccoli pasta - use broccoli instead of kale and corn, like we did in this Gigli Pasta with Broccoli and Vegan White Sauce
- Creamy asparagus and pea pasta - use sautéed asparagus and green peas instead of kale and corn, like we did in this Vegan Creamy Mushroom Pasta
- Smoky - add smoked paprika (sweet or spicy) when blending sauce
- Spicy - add ground cayenne when blending sauce
- TexMex creamy pasta - add taco seasoning when blending sauce, then mix in diced red bell peppers to the finished dish
- Creamy pesto pasta - after combining sauce, veggies and pasta, stir in 2 tablespoons prepared vegan pesto
Step by step instructions for making this creamy shell pasta.
Make the cauliflower béchamel sauce, first.
Boil cauliflower and garlic until tender, then drain it and add to blender with plant-based milk, salt and pepper.
Blend sauce until completely smooth.
Then, make the pasta with kale and corn.
Boil pasta in well-salted water
Add corn kernels
Add chopped kale
Stir together and continue to cook
Drain pasta and return to pot
Add prepared sauce
Stir everything together to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper, as needed.
⭐️ Expert tips
- Be sure to cook the cauliflower until it's tender, so you have a smooth, creamy sauce.
- Reserve leftover cauliflower béchamel sauce to add to reheated pasta the next day, as the pasta will soak up most of the sauce as it is stored in the refrigerator.
- High speed blender - essential for making a silky smooth sauce. I use a BlendTec, but another high speed blender like Vitamix or Ninja should work just fine.
🥡 Make ahead and storage tips
Make this pasta ahead of time and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. The pasta will dry out a bit in the refrigerator, so it's best to reserve some sauce to mix in when reheating the pasta in the microwave.
If you don't have any extra sauce, add a tablespoon of plant-based milk to re-hydrate.
The cauliflower sauce can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator. It's good stored in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 5 days. To re-heat, pour sauce in a sauce pan and heat on low heat.
☕️ Tea pairing
This recipe would be delicious paired with iced black tea.
No, traditional béchamel is made with butter and dairy milk, which are animal products and not vegan.
Cauliflower béchamel is an alternative way of making traditional white sauce (also known as béchamel or alfredo sauce). It uses cauliflower as the base, instead of the typical flour, milk and butter.
Conchiglie pasta is excellent for creamy sauces, macaroni and cheese, baked pasta dishes, pasta salad and adding to soups.
Seashell or conch shape, with ridges on the outside and smooth inside. Conchiglie is Italian for "shells". Conchiglie is specifically medium shells. Conchigliette is the term for small shell pasta. Conchiglioni is the term for jumbo shell pasta.
Yes, you can use conchiglie (medium shell) pasta instead of macaroni, although you will likely need to boil it a few minutes longer than you would macaroni, to get it al dente.
🗺 Cultural influences
Conchiglie is a type of pasta from Italy. The name is derived from the Italian word for seashell: conchiglia. In Italy, you may find it in colorful varieties, with tomato or spinach extract coloring the dough.
Conchiglie corresponds to medium shells. Conchigliette corresponds to small shell pasta. Conchiglioni corresponds to jumbo shell pasta.
It is commonly known as "shells" or "seashells" in America. The concave shape of the pasta allows sauce to pool inside.
💜 More recipes you'll love
If you love this creamy vegan pasta recipe, check out these plant-based pasta recipes!
Conchiglie Pasta in Cauliflower Béchamel Sauce with Kale and Corn
- 16 ounces conchiglie pasta also known as medium shells
- 1 whole head of cauliflower broken into florets (about 2 pounds or 9 cups)
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ⅛ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 2-3 cloves garlic optional
- pinch nutmeg optional
- ½ cup almond milk unsweetened, unflavored, plain
- 4 cups kale chopped
- 12 ounces sweet corn kernels frozen or canned, drained
- Start making the cauliflower béchamel sauce first: Add cauliflower and whole garlic cloves to medium saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Turn heat to medium and gently boil the cauliflower until it is fork tender.1 whole head of cauliflower
- Meanwhile, for the pasta, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cook conchiglie (shell) pasta according to package instructions.16 ounces conchiglie pasta
- For the kale and corn: When pasta has 2 minutes left to cook, stir in the kale and corn to allow it cook along with the pasta.4 cups kale, 12 ounces sweet corn kernels
- Drain cauliflower and garlic. Transfer drained cauliflower and garlic to blender, along with salt, pepper, nutmeg (if using) and almond milk. Blend until completely smooth and thick.1 whole head of cauliflower, ½ teaspoon sea salt, ⅛ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, 2-3 cloves garlic, pinch nutmeg, ½ cup almond milk
- Reserve 1 cup of pasta water before draining pasta. Drain pasta, kale and corn in large colander and then return to pot.
- Place pot over low heat. Pour enough of the cauliflower béchamel sauce into the pasta to coat everything. You may or may not have some leftover. Add ¼ cup reserved pasta water, if needed. Stir and then taste it. Adjust salt and pepper, to taste. Turn off heat. Serve hot.