As much as we love mac ‘n cheese at my house; and the fact that this is one of my daughter’s fave food… I definitely don’t make them enough. She gets a lot of Black Bean Soup, Turkey Bolognese, and Tomato Soup for lunch at home. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t remember when the last time that I made one. I mean, how is that possible? So recently, I decided that I should make one. After one, baked macaroni and cheese is a winter time staple, right? A casserole of pasta with goey cheese sauce and crispy topping… that is definitely a comfort food that will be accepted by anyone.
In an attempt to make a lighter version of this dish, I stumbled upon this recipe that suggested the use of pureed cauliflower to substitute for some of the cheesy sauce, mixed into it. Score! I have always heard of using cauliflower as a substitute for mashed potatoes, but I have not tried it – and have definitely not heard it use in place of cheese sauce. Brilliant idea. Mac ‘n cheese is a perfect dish to sneak a little vegetables into, like this pumpkin version that I have made a while back. This dish was beautiful and it was hard to imagine that there was actually a TON of vegetables in it. My daughter and Red devoured this – and I felt good about serving this dish, since I know that it already has a good amount of vegetables so I don’t have to think about getting another vegetable dish. I started making this every other week now. I also tried to freeze it once – and it turned out fine. I just left the cheese topping while freezing, and added those just before baking. I took the frozen casserole out in the morning before I head out to work, and left it in the refrigerator – and I baked it for 30 minutes.
4 cups 1-1/2-inch cauliflower florets (about 1 lb.; from 1/2 head)
1 medium onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Fine sea salt or table salt
12 oz. dried penne
2 cups 1% milk
1 tsp. dry mustard
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
2 oz. coarsely grated sharp white Cheddar (about 1/2 cup)
1-1/2 oz. finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1-1/2 cups using a rasp grater)
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F.
Put the cauliflower, onion, and garlic in a steamer basket set over 1 inch of boiling water in a 6- to 8-quart pot. Cover and steam until the cauliflower is tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer the cauliflower, onion, and garlic to a blender.
Fill the pot three-quarters full of salted water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook for 3 minutes less than the package timing. Drain and return the pasta to the pot.
While the pasta cooks, add 1 cup of the milk, the dry mustard, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper to the vegetables in the blender and purée until smooth. Transfer to a 3-quart saucepan and stir in the remaining 1 cup of milk and the thyme. Heat over medium-low heat until hot but not boiling, about 3 minutes.
In a small bowl, mix the Cheddar and Parmigiano. Add all but 1/2 cup of the cheese to the sauce and stir until the cheese is melted. Add the sauce to the pasta and stir to combine. Transfer the pasta and sauce to an 8-inch square baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Bake until heated through and the cheese is beginning to brown, 20 to 30 minutes.
Recipe source: Fine Cooking ~ January/Feb 2013