A macaroni and cheese recipe with a hidden surprise — cauliflower.
Thanks to the chameleon of the kitchen, cauliflower, what was once a naughty indulgence – mac and cheese – is now a (sort of) virtuous addition to your menu.
Steamed and puréed cauliflower provides a great deal of oomph (and volume) to the usual cheese sauce yet I don’t think either of us have ever tasted its presence. The texture of the sauce is different than regular mac and cheese – the sauce is thicker and a bit grainier, but it’s not at all off-putting. We gobble this up!
Inspired by The Lemon Bowl’s recipe, my first attempt at cauliflower mac and cheese was pretty close to the recipe below. My most significant change from The Lemon Bowl’s version was making a roux with butter and flour instead of just adding flour to the milk. Also, my roux is built on a sauté of onion and garlic. If you want to cut back on the fat, you could substitute olive oil for the butter in the roux.
I also increased the amount of cheese from about 1/2 cup to 1 cup – and that’s certainly a place where you can cut back. I’m tempted to try a mix of gruyere and cheddar next time, or a mix of smoked gouda and cheddar.
Most recently, I veered away from the panko bread crumb topping and used a mix of crushed jalapeno potato chips and parmesan cheese instead.
Mac and cheese has always been a flexible recipe. You could add some greens. Or some pork in the form of bacon, pancetta, ham or sausage. A little chipotle would provide some kick or you could just splash some Texas Pete on mac and cheese like we do here in North Carolina, strangely the home of Texas Pete.
Cauliflower Mac and Cheese with Potato Chip Topping
You’ll need a steamer insert and large pot (for cauliflower and onion/béchamel sauce), whisk, immersion blender (or regular blender or food processor), baking dish (I used a 9” x 11” dish), and a small bowl.
- 4 cups cooked (2 cups uncooked) whole wheat elbow macaroni
- 1 medium head of cauliflower, cut into florets (about 6 cups)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced (about 1 cup)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups 2% milk, heated
- 1 cup grated sharp cheddar – or a mix of gruyere or smoked gouda and cheddar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- Pinch of nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/4 cup plain yogurt
- 1 cup crushed potato chips (I used jalapeno flavored chips) or panko bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400. Steam the cauliflower in a large pot until tender, about 8-10 minutes then remove from pan and set aside. Wipe out pot.
Over medium-low heat, add olive oil to the same pot. Sauté onion until softened. Add garlic and cook until golden. Add butter, let it melt and bubble. Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the mixture turns a tan color. Whisk in milk and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture starts to thicken, about 5-7 minutes.
Add grated cheddar, Dijon, nutmeg, salt and cayenne and whisk until the cheese is melted. Stir in the steamed cauliflower and yogurt then puree until smooth with an immersion blender or pulse until smooth in a blender or food processor.
Add pasta and check for seasoning before pouring into a casserole baking dish.
In a small bowl, mix together potato chips, olive oil and parmesan cheese. Sprinkle the chip mixture evenly over the noodles then bake for 20-25 minutes or until topping turns golden brown.
Original inspiration: Cauliflower Mac and Cheese with Crispy Panko Topping, The Lemon Bowl