What if I told you that you could have a rich and creamy bowl of mac and cheese while also packing in over a pound of cauliflower? Sounds like a trick, right? No so fast! This recipe does just that, thanks to a base of cheesy cauliflower sauce.
Cauliflower Mac & Cheese: Watch the Video
A Wholesome Spin on a Family Favorite
While I don't believe in hiding vegetables, I do believe in adding them into dishes wherever I can to boost my intake. That is exactly why I love this macaroni and cheese. I'll still serve this with a simple green salad, like I always do with mac and cheese, but the addition of cauliflower inside the casserole means I am getting two doses of veggies instead of one without even trying. That's a win. The fact that this take on the classic is also lighter yet equally as creamy and satisfying is also a win.
When cauliflower is boiled and puréed in a blender or food processor, it takes on the consistency of cream sauce without actually using any milk or cream. Boiling it in a pot of water that's infused with garlic and herbs also ensures that the purée will be far from bland, since we need it to stand as the rich, velvety base for this casserole.
Since Gruyère and sharp cheddar are two extra-flavorful cheeses, you won't need to add a ton to the cauliflower purée to make it truly sing. Just don't forget to boil the pasta in the water the cauliflower was cooked in! Not only is it less wasteful to do so, but all that flavor from the garlic and herbs also soaks into your pasta.
Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
For the cauliflower cheese sauce:
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
2 medium heads cauliflower, cut into florets
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 cup grated Gruyère cheese
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the macaroni and cheese:
1 pound dry cavatappi pasta or medium pasta shells
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup fresh or panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Arrange a rack in the top third of the oven and heat to 400°F. Coat a 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray or butter.
Make the cauliflower cheese sauce: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, thyme, and bay leaves and boil for 5 minutes to infuse water.
Add the cauliflower and cook until very fork tender, 7 to 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cauliflower to a rimmed baking sheet or medium bowl out of the water, leaving the herbs and garlic behind in the pot (do not drain the pot).
Place 1/2 of the cauliflower in a blender or food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Scoop out 3/4 cup of the cooking liquid and add it to the blender along with 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil. Blend until very smooth, about 1 1/2 minutes. Transfer the purée to a large bowl. Repeat with the remaining cauliflower, 3/4 cup of cooking liquid, and remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil; transfer to the same bowl.
Add the cheddar, Gruyère, mustard, salt, and pepper into the purée and whisk to combine. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as needed; set aside.
For the macaroni and cheese: Bring the pot of infused water back to a boil. Add the pasta and cook per package instructions until just al dente. Meanwhile, combine the melted butter and breadcrumbs in a small bowl; set aside.
Drain the pasta, discard the herbs and garlic cloves, and add the pasta to the bowl of cauliflower sauce. Stir gently until the pasta is entirely coated.
Transfer the mixture to the baking dish and spread into an even layer. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the top, followed by the grated Parmesan.
Transfer the dish to the oven and bake until the sauce is bubbling and the top is golden-brown, 15 to 20 minutes. If the pasta becomes bubbly before the top is golden, you can run the dish under the broiler for a minute or two to crisp the topping.
- Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- Make ahead: After transferring the pasta and cauliflower sauce mixture to the baking dish, it can be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 day. Return to room temperature, sprinkle the buttered breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese on top, and proceed with baking.
- Freezing: After transferring the pasta and cauliflower sauce mixture to the baking dish, it can be also be covered tightly with aluminum foil and frozen for up to 2 months. Bake, frozen and covered, at 350°F, for 1 hour. Uncover, sprinkle with the buttered breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese, and bake until the topping is golden-brown, 15 to 20 minutes more.