Friday, January 14, 2011

Cauliflower mac and cheese: a recipe

Cauliflower mac and cheese
Cauliflower is cool. It really is.

If you are of a certain age (ahem), you know cauliflower from it's ubiquitous appearance on the cocktail party crudite platter or as a gross side dish your mother made you eat, made only slightly palatable by the addition of a melted cheese sauce. Probably velveeta.

But apparently I have misjudged cauliflower all these years.

When pureed, it has great thickness and body, a nice heartiness and slightly nutty flavor that works well in soups, pastas, and other dishes. Take, for example, this mac-and-cheese I made the other night.

And yes, damnit, it comes from Mark Bittman's Food Matters Cookbook. I will not shut up about it until you go buy it.

(I cooked all Bittman, all week and should probably become the president-elect of his fan club. If he has one. If he doesn't, he needs one.)

Who doesn't love mac and cheese?
I swear your kids (or your veg-loathing spouse) won't even know that there's cauliflower in this recipe unless you tell them. So don't. Cook behind a screen if you must, just to get them to try it.

Additionally, like many of Bittman's recipes, this can be a perfectly lovely vegetarian dish unless you are me; I threw in some crispy crumbled bacon because, hey, everything in my world is better with bacon.

Cauliflower Mac and Cheese (adapted ever-so-slightly from Mark Bittman's Food Matters Cookbook)

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 head cauliflower, cut into large pieces
8 oz. elbow macaroni (multi-grain or whole wheat)
1/2 cup grated Gruyere or Emmenthal cheese
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
salt and pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
3 thick slices cooked, crumbled bacon (optional)

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cook the cauliflower in boiling water for about 25 minutes, until very tender (you will be blending it up). Remove cauliflower with slotted spoon and set aside. Reboil the water and use it to cook the pasta for 5 minutes (will be underdone but you don't want it to fall apart during baking). Drain and return pasta and cauliflower to the pot.

Add the stock, oil, Gruyere cheese, mustard and nutmeg to the pan; season with a little salt and pepper. Using an immersion blender, process the mixture until desired consistency (I don't like chunks, but you may). Add salt and pepper to taste, if needed, and bacon, if using.

Transfer mixture to a prepared 9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs on top. Bake until the top is nicely browned, about 20 minutes.


  1. Willow looks as though she would help out with any leftovers. (Looks pretty good to me too.) Colette

  2. She is pretty much always on standby, Colette, in case something should fall on the floor. :-)