Ready in: 45 minutes
Everyone who knows me knows that mac ‘n’ cheese is one of my absolute favorite dishes. In fact, I used to go to one particular bar and order that and chicken fingers at least once a week. Now, it doesn’t take a genius to know that eating that every week is not great for you. And while this recipe still calls for plenty of cheese, it uses milk instead of cream, less butter, whole wheat pasta, and replaces some of said pasta with cauliflower. The sweetness of the cauliflower complements the nuttiness of the pasta and the sharpness of the sauce, while also providing a pleasant texture to the dish. It’s not super healthy, but it is a better (and delicious) option for when you’re feeling health conscious.
½ a head of cauliflower
6 ounces whole wheat pasta (I used elbows)
½ stick (4 tbls.) unsalted butter
¼ cup flour
2 cups whole milk, at room temperature
1 tsp. onion powder
¼ tsp. smoked paprika
¼ tsp. ground mustard
¾ tsp. salt
½ tsp. freshly ground pepper
2 cup sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup ricotta
½ cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan
¼ cup cheddar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Fill the bottom of a double boiler (or a pot of water with a metal colander on top, covered with a lid) with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Do the same with a medium saucepan. The double boiler is for the cauliflower, and the saucepan is for the pasta.
Take a medium-head of cauliflower and cut it in half. Save one half for the Sambal Broccoli and Cauliflower I serve alongside this mac ‘n’ cheese (link here). Cut the cauliflower into small, bite-sized pieces. Once the water has started boiling in your (potentially makeshift) double boiler, put the cauliflower in the top section. Cook covered for 5-6 minutes, or until tender.
Dump the pasta into the medium saucepan, once the water is boiling, and cook until al dente. You don’t want them to be mushy.
While the pasta and cauliflower are cooking, start the roux in a large saucepan (big enough to hold all of the cooked pasta, cauliflower, and sauce). Melt the butter and add the flour, letting it soak up the butter for a second before whisking it together. This will thicken very quickly so have your milk ready to go. Pour the milk in slowly, whisking constantly. Add the onion powder, smoked paprika, ground mustard, salt, pepper, and cheddar cheese and mix. Once the cheddar has melted, add the ricotta cheese. At this point, add more milk if the sauce is too thick (use your judgment here–it should be thick and creamy but not too thick to coat the noodles) and adjust the seasoning.
Once the cauliflower and pasta are al dente, drain the pasta and add both the pasta and the cauliflower to the sauce, stirring carefully to coat.
Do not dump the double boiler if you’re planning on making my Sambal Cauliflower and Broccoli.
Grease a 9×13 baking dish and pour the mixture into it. Top it with a layer of the breadcrumbs, parmesan, and remaining cheddar cheese. Put it in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until the mixture is bubbling. If you wish, you can turn on the broiler for a couple minutes at the end to brown the top.
Let it cool slightly and serve with a bright vegetable side dish, like my super-simple Sambal Cauliflower and Broccoli.