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A piece of Mac & Cheese on an antique plate with a painting of a harbour

With many thanks to The Collector for the French antique plate, c. 1875-1891

I’ve started and re-started this post a couple of too many times now; it’s just not happening. Maybe I should leave it, and wait till some inspiration decides to return to my brain. I’m sure that would be the right thing to do. However, I really want to share this recipe with you all.

I made this dish a couple of weeks ago, after an impulse buy of a head of cauliflower at the supermarket. What’s that you say? The words cauliflower and impulse don’t belong in the same sentence? I know. It just looked so nice! And hey, it’s cheaper than a pair of Manolos. This version of Mac & Cheese is made with a thick white sauce, just like the classic, but with a twist. The white sauce is in fact a thick, gooey, creamy, cauliflower soup. Clever, isn’t it? The idea came from this Alfredo Pasta recipe on A Pinch of Yum. I tried it a while ago and really liked it, but thought I could take it up a notch in tastiness (and down a notch in healthiness) by adding a whole load of cheese to it. Baked Cauliflower Cheese was one of our favourite meals as kids, so combining that with pasta was a no-brainer really!

I’ve simplified the recipe for the sauce so the Mac & Cheese is fairly quick to throw together, but for a super fast meal, make the sauce the day (or a couple of days) before. Then you can just mix in some cheese and cooked pasta, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and pop it in the oven. In future I might even try replacing béchamel sauce in other recipes with this cauliflower sauce; for example it would probably be lovely in a veggie lasagna with spinach. But first I’ll have to convince The Mister to have a teeny weeny try. I know he’d like it but just the mention of the main ingredient sends him running to the souvlaki shop.

Healthier Mac & Cheese with Cauliflower White Sauce (Bechamel)

Serves 4

Ingredients

For the Cauliflower White Sauce (Bechamel)

1 small head of cauliflower (approx. 700-800g)
2 cups broth or stock, whatever type you prefer
White pepper, to taste
Nutmeg, to taste
Salt, to taste
1 Tbs cream
1 Tbs olive oil

For the Mac & Cheese

375g pasta (I used penne)
100g mature cheddar, grated
100g cheese of your choice, grated (choose one that melts well, mozzarella or gouda would be good – I used Greek Kaseri)
60g cheese for topping, grated (same as above, or Parmesan, or anything in the fridge that needs eating up! I used Kaseri again)
½ cup breadcrumbs for topping (or enough to cover your mac)
½ tsp Italian seasoning (or a mixture of any dried herbs you fancy)
White pepper, to taste
Salt, a good pinch
Cauliflower white sauce (I used most of the sauce made with the above ingredients – it depends how gooey/runny you like your Mac & Cheese)

Instructions

Cauliflower White Sauce

  1. Cut the cauliflower into florets and boil it in the stock, covered, for about 30 minutes or until very tender.
  2. Pour out 1 cup of the stock and set aside.
  3. Using a stick blender, blend the cauliflower and remaining stock until smooth. Add the olive oil, cream, seasoning and the rest of the stock back in and continue to blend till very smooth (if you find that your sauce is already runny, just add as much of the reserved stock as necessary till it reaches the desired consistency. You want it thick and creamy, like béchamel. Mine was perfect with the 2 cups of stock).
  4. Continue with the Mac & Cheese recipe or let it cool and refrigerate until needed.

Mac & Cheese with Cauliflower White Sauce

  1. Preheat your oven to 180C.
  2. Boil the pasta in plenty of salty water but stop just before it’s completely done (about 2 minutes less than you would normally cook it). Drain the pasta reserving ½ a cup of water.
  3. Return the pasta to the saucepan and add the white sauce and cheeses (except the cheese for the topping). Stir well to combine. If it’s too thick you can thin it out with some pasta stock. I didn’t need to do this.
  4. Now you can add some seasoning to the mixture if you want. I forgot to do this, so I just added the salt and pepper to the breadcrumbs. It worked for me because I liked the bursts of saltiness that came in the crunchy topping. If you prefer a mellower taste add the salt to the mixture.
  5. Transfer mixture to an oven proof dish.
  6. Mix the herbs (and seasoning if not already used) with the breadcrumbs and remaining cheese, and sprinkle over the mixture.
  7. Bake for about 40 minutes or until the top is golden and the sides are bubbling a bit. If the sauce was in the fridge this might take a bit longer.
  8. Let the Mac & Cheese rest for a while before cutting into it. Serve with a tomato or green salad.

Other Cool Cauliflower Recipes from around the Blogosphere
Cauliflower Cheese by The English Kitchen
Pureed Cauliflower by Kalyn’s Kitchen
Bacon Cheddar Cauliflower Chowder by Iowa Girl Eats
Cauliflower Crust Pizza with Fried Eggs by Love & Lemons
CrockPot Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Curry and Honey by A Year of Slow Cooking

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