I know this is not a glorious quattro al forno that I need on occasion to lubricate the bi-lipid layers of my cell membranes, or the penne with five cheeses, another evidence that heaven can sauce pasta and bake up crisp and cheesy delicious in the oven. It is a lovely stand in, and a perfect weeknight dish. This one comes to you from Mark Bittman's Food Matters Cookbook. I blabbed about the simple way Food Matters talked the talk about food heavy handed in the vegetable department, and then swooned when I realized there was a cookbook coming out by the same name. My parents sent it my way and I have been enjoying it every since. This recipe is great and so much of what the book is all about, changing ingredient proportions. Instead of lots and lots of cheese and milk and butter with lots of pasta, this dish flips the ratios, with lots of cauliflower, and a lot less cheese. And yet, it was still creamy, still cheesy and still delicious and highly more nutritious.
Cauliflower, if you haven't tried it yet makes a fabulous puree, creamy and rich it is the perfect thing to carry the flavor from the cheese, dijon, and a few spices. It is a substantial meal so dig in, the meal is portioned out for 4 servings so don't be shy enjoying it. Thumbs up from the taste testers under this roof. I recommend it.
Creamy Cauliflower Mac
Food Matters Cookbook
I did shave my time down by steaming my cauliflower in the microwave while my pasta water was heating and that really sped things up. To steam in the microwave, first, wash your cauliflower and turn upside-down on the cutting board. Cut out the stem to separate the florets. Place florets in a microwave safe bowl with a lid (I just use a ceramic casserole dish, but a bowl with a plate on top also works). Microwave under tender, about 7 minutes depending on your microwave's power.
Vegetables are comfort food too, as proved by this recipe, which is sure to please anyone who loves mac-and-cheese. The "secret" is cauliflower's miraculous ability to turn creamy when puréed. If you don't want to wash out a blender or food processor (and don't mind some lumps), use a potato masher to purée the cauliflower in the same pot you cooked it in.
Makes: 4 servings
Time: About 45 minutes
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing the baking dish
2 1⁄2 cups vegetable or chicken stock or water
2 bay leaves
1 cauliflower, cored and separated into large pieces
8 ounces elbow, shell, ziti, or other cut pasta, preferably whole wheat
1⁄2 cup grated cheese (like sharp cheddar, Gruyère, or Emmental or a combination)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, or to taste
1⁄8 teaspoon nutmeg, or to taste
1⁄4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1⁄2 cup or more bread crumbs, preferably whole grain and homemade, optional
1. Heat the oven to 400°F. Grease a 9-inch square baking dish with a little oil. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Put the stock with the bay leaves in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. When small bubbles appear along the sides, about 5 minutes later, turn off the heat and let stand.
2. Cook the cauliflower in the boiling water until very tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Scoop the cauliflower out of the water with a slotted spoon and transfer it to a blender or food processor. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until still somewhat chalky inside and not yet edible, about 5 minutes. Drain it, rinse it quickly to stop the cooking, and put it in the prepared baking dish.
3. Remove the bay leaves from the stock. Carefully process the cauliflower with 2 cups of the stock, the 2 tablespoons oil, the cheese, mustard, nutmeg, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. (You may have to work in batches.) If the sauce seems too thick, add the remaining 1⁄2 cup stock. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Pour the sauce over the pasta, toss, and spread the mixture evenly in the dish. (You can make the dish to this point, cover, and refrigerate for up to a day; return to room temperature before proceeding.)
4. Sprinkle the top with the Parmesan and bread crumbs if you're using them. Bake until the pasta is bubbling and the crumbs turn brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve hot.