What this is not: classic cheesy baked macaroni & cheese.
What this is: healthy, filling, creamy, light, and delicious!
Mark Bittman’s recipe for Creamy Cauliflower Mac caught my eye a while back, and I put it on the menu for last week. I’m a sucker for a good homemade macaroni and cheese, and am always on the lookout for healthier spins on the classically rich dish.
After reading through the reviews of Bittman’s recipe, I made a decision that might surprise you. I actually adapted it to be less healthy. Let me explain.
Many reviews mentioned that the cauliflower mac was bland and not cheesy enough. In Bittman’s defense, he didn’t even entitle the dish “mac & cheese”, as his recipe calls for a mere 1/2 cup of cheese for the sauce and 1/4 cup for the topping; clearly much less cheese than is required in a typical mac & cheese.
I wanted to up the cheese factor by enough that I would be able to taste it but not by so much that the caloric and fat content would drastically escalate. This blog does, after all, seek to strike a balance between living to eat and eating to live!
I ended up pretty darn happy with my alterations, which added flavor and just a touch of decadence.
The sauce is comprised mainly of cooked and pureed cauliflower, with some chicken broth, extra sharp cheddar cheese, a bit of blue cheese, and the additional flavor elements of olive oil, mustard, and hot sauce. The blue cheese and hot sauce aren’t in-your-face detectable, but are rather barely discernible (yet important!) flavor enhancements. When pureed together, these ingredients create a thick and luscious sauce that is akin – both in consistency and flavor – to potato leek soup.
Toss in some al dente whole wheat elbow macaroni and top with a mixture of fresh toasted breadcrumbs, salty parmesan, and a pat of butter, and you have a tasty soup/mac & cheese hybrid that sets and crisps up beautifully in the oven.
I know that might sound like a strange pairing, but believe me. It works.
Creamy Cauliflower Baked Macaroni
adapted from Mark Bittman’s Creamy Cauliflower Mac
yield: 4-6 servings
- 2 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken (or vegetable) stock
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 1 head cauliflower, cored and cut into large florets
- 8 ounces whole wheat elbow macaroni
- 3/4 cup freshly grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
- 2 Tbsp blue cheese, crumbled
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp coarse ground (or dijon) mustard
- hot sauce, to taste, optional (I used about 2 tsp)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs (preferably freshly ground and toasted)
- 1 Tbsp salted butter or margarine, melted
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly grease an 8 x 8 inch baking dish.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add in the cauliflower florets and boil for 25 minutes, or until very soft.
- Meanwhile, bring the stock and bay leaves to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat. Let simmer for 5 minutes, then turn off heat.
- When the cauliflower is done, remove from the boiling water using a strainer or slotted spoon, and transfer to the bowl of a food processor. Add macaroni to boiling water and cook for 4-5 minutes, until al dente. Drain.
- Meanwhile, add the stock (minus the bay leaves), cheddar cheese, blue cheese, olive oil, mustard, and hot sauce to the cauliflower in the food processor. Process until very smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and more hot sauce if desired.
- Place drained macaroni back into the pot and add in the cauliflower cheese sauce. Stir to coat the pasta with the sauce. Pour into the prepared baking dish.
- In a small bowl, combine the melted butter or margarine, grated Parmesan cheese, and breadcrumbs. Mix with a fork or your fingertips until combined. Sprinkle evenly over the macaroni.
- Bake at 400°F for about 20 minutes, or until the breadcrumb topping is golden brown. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
*Leftovers of this baked macaroni – cold or heated in the oven – are delicious!