I love mac and cheese at a level that borders on insanity, because it is one of the most versatile recipes in my arsenal of cookbooks. It can be simple and pleasing, or complicated and exotic, it can come from a box with powder cheese or have each noodle painstakingly handmade. When I’m making mac and cheese, I can’t help but salivate, and always think of a quote by the comedian Mitch Hedburg: “Fettuccini alfredo is macaroni and cheese for adults.” I love alfredo too, but I’m perfectly content remaining a child if it means I can have more cheese.
So when my mother suggested I try cauliflower mac and cheese, I was suspicious. But again, mac and cheese is the chameleon of recipes—I love experimenting with this delectably traditional dish. I’ve tried buffalo mac and cheese, I’ve added chicken and broccoli, and I’ve spiced it up with just about every type of seasoning in my cabinets. But the two main ingredients in every mac and cheese are: macaroni and cheese. It’s right there in the name, a small recipe all on its own. Without one, there is no other. How could cauliflower work its way into the mix? Not only work its way in, but actually replace one of only two main ingredients? Did this take the experimenting too far? Was it still mac and cheese?
Still, I decided to try it.
I went online and hunted around for a good recipe, and found one by George Stella on the Food Network website. Despite its lack of mac, this Baked Cauliflower Mac and Cheese surprised me in a creamy sauce and a little spice to add some kick. Great to eat by itself or as a side—I paired it with some chicken tenders.
Cauliflower “Mac” and Cheese Casserole
Kosher salt, as needed, plus 1/2 teaspoon
1 large head cauliflower, cut into small florets
Vegetable oil spray
1 cup heavy cream
2 ounces cream cheese, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar, plus 1/2 cup for topping the casserole
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
Equipment: 8 by 8-inch baking dish
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season the water with salt.
Spray the baking dish with vegetable oil spray.
Cook the cauliflower in the boiling water until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Drain well and pat between several layers of paper towels to dry. Transfer the cauliflower to the baking dish and set aside.
Bring the cream to a simmer in a small saucepan, and whisk in the cream cheese and mustard until smooth. Stir in 1 cup of the cheese, salt, pepper and garlic and whisk just until the cheese melts, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat, pour over the cauliflower, and stir to combine. Top with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese and bake until browned and bubbly hot, about 15 minutes. Serve.
For me, the more the better, especially when it comes to cheese. If a recipe ever calls for cheese, I prefer to think of the measurement as the minimum required amount. To this recipe, besides the extra cheese, I also added a little bit of Cholula hot sauce, some paprika, and a dash of garlic to help give it a secret spice (I hardly ever make anything without garlic). On top I sprinkled some basil.
It certainly wasn’t mac; the Cauliflower had too much crunch for that, but not enough to make the texture strange. I found myself rather pleased with the outcome, and though I cannot dub it Mac and Cheese, I will dub it a cousin. Perhaps next time I will add some buffalo sauce, or some red peppers. As I said, the best thing about mac and cheese is it can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. Whether it’s 50 ingredients for just three, you can never go wrong with more cheese.