Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mac & Cheese with Cauliflower

Most of you dear readers are aware of my obsession with Mac & Cheese, especially if you happened upon this site by way of Food Buzz, where on my flavor page I say that I'm always craving Mac & Cheese. I think it's the most perfect food, easy to make, homey and comforting and conducive to all different types of cheeses and other additions. I almost always have all the necessary ingredients on hand to throw together some form mac & cheese (and not the Kraft kind). I once made it with spaghetti because it was the only pasta in the house. While it wasn't perfect it certainly cured the hungover craving my sis, her friend and I had on that Sunday.

I've now completely digressed. Today's mac & cheese creation was made in an attempt to make this delightfully gooey dish a bit more healthy. While it's still full of cheese, by making a few substitutions I think this is a little more guilt free than how I normally make it.

Mac & Cheese with Cauliflower

1/2 lb whole wheat or multi grain pasta (I used multi grain rotini)
1/2-3/4 head of cauliflower - divided into florets about the size of each piece of pasta
3 Tbsp olive oil + extra for prepping casserole dish
3 Tbsp whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups of 1% milk - at room temperature
1 3/4 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese - grated
1 1/4 cup fontina cheese - grated
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
salt & pepper
2 slices whole wheat or multi grain bread

1. Preheat oven to 350F and light grease a casserole dish with olive oil or cooking spray. In a large pot of salted boiling water cook the cauliflower until tender, approx 5 mins. Remove from water with a slotted spoon and cook the pasta in the same boiling water, according to package directions. Drain pasta in a colander.
2. Wipe out pasta pot and return to stove. Heat oil and flour over medium high heat, whisking until a paste forms. Lower heat to medium low and slowly stream in milk, whisking continuously to reduce lumps. Let cook for a few minutes until mixture thickens, this is called a bechamel sauce.
3. Whisk in grated cheese, 1 handful at a time reserving a few Tbsps of either cheese. Once the cheese is fully incorporated into the bechamel add in the nutmeg and salt & pepper to taste. If at any point the sauce gets too thick add in some more milk a Tbsp at a time.
4. Add the drained cauliflower and pasta to the cheese mixture and gently stir to combine. Pour entire mixture into casserole dish. Process bread slices in a food processor or blender until they are bread crumbs. Sprinkle the bread crumbs on top of the macaroni mixture and top with the reserved Tbsps of cheese, salt and pepper.
5. Bake in preheated oven for approx 30 mins or until cheese is bubbly and top is golden brown. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

This was exactly the comfort food the boy and I were craving last night. He wouldn't have ever guessed at my attempts to health it up a bit. The cauliflower adds bulk that's not just pasta AND dietary fiber and vitamin C. Besides that, who doesn't love cauliflower in cheese sauce? Subbing in the olive oil and wheat flour for butter and white flour reduced the saturated fat and refined carbs too. To make it even better for you you could either cut back about 1/2 cup of cheese (I like it extra cheesy) or use 2% or lowfat cheddar. I went with the full fat cheese just because I had the boy buying the cheese and can't fool him with something like that. I've never actually made mac & cheese with lowfat cheese and am interested to see how it works out, so I may try next time.

This recipe is just a template for mac & cheese. You can sub in whatever cheeses you like and any other vegetable too. I think broccoli or zucchini would be tasty too. I'd cook the broccoli the same was as the cauliflower and for zucchini I'd either lightly saute or blanche it, as it will cook a bit more in the oven. Enjoy!


suz said...

This would be super easy to try gf! When I have a kitchen again, I'll check it out for ya :)

Jennifer said...

This looks great and definetly adds to what you can do with mac & cheese.

Sarah said...

Sounds delicious, and I don't usually do cauliflower.

My variation is to layer cooked pasta and cubes of old cheddar in a baking dish (rather than putting the cheese in the sauce)

Lately, when I make the bechamel sauce (with butter :) ) I saute finely chopped vegetables in the butter (carrots, celery, onions, red pepper) then toss with flour (no lumps!) before adding the milk.

Pour the sauce over the layered pasta and cheese, then sprinkle with finely grated cheese and/or breadcrumbs/croutons.

(aka my mom's cheddar baked macaroni with extra veggies)

Jen H said...

Sarah - I'm not a cauliflower fan either but it really works here. Your variation sounds great, I may have to try it out.

Jen H said...

Sarah - I'm not a cauliflower fan either but it really works here. Your variation sounds great, I may have to try it out.