I just love the surprise of the bushel. It never fails to inspire me to cook more creatively and this week was no exception. Can you believe the color of this cheddar cauliflower, grown by Brian Markley in New Braunfels. As I unpacked my veggies, this vibrant orange cauliflower spoke to me and said “cheesy pasta.” I blended up the cauliflower to make a healthier version of mac and cheese, then finished it all off in the oven with a crispy cheesy topping. The perfect hearty & healthy (husband-approved) meal for these chilly winter nights.
Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
1 big head of cauliflower (4 loose cups, chopped, plus extra small florets to leave whole)
12 oz elbow pasta
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 shallot, minced
3 cloves of garlic
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
pasta water, as needed to thin
salt & pepper, to taste
optional: an extra handful of sharp cheddar
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
1/4 – 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chives
a few pinches of red pepper flakes
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large pot of salted water, boil cauliflower florets until tender but not mushy, about 8 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to drain and scoop the cauliflower into a blender. Bring your water back up to a boil and add the pasta.
Back to your blender – add the dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, and puree well. Add the cheese, sherry vinegar, and blend again. Add starchy pasta water, as needed, to thin the sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Set aside a cup or so of pasta water, then fully drain your pasta and the water out of the large pot. Return the noodles to the pot and stir in the sauce. Add more reserved pasta water as needed to create a creamy sauce. Stir in the remainder of the cauliflower.
Pour your pasta into a large baking dish (or a few individual sized dishes). Top with a sprinkling of panko, parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. (optional: make it extra cheesy by adding a layer of sharp cheddar underneath the panko and parmesan) Bake until the top is golden and crispy – about 12-20 minutes depending on the size of your dish. Remove from oven and top with chives and red pepper flakes.
-Jeanine Dorofino, Love & Lemons