Macaroni and cheese has been one of my favorite dishes since childhood and I am always looking for new ways to make it. My latest version, Cauliflower Mac and Cheese, is a healthy dish that your whole family will love and believe it or not, the sauce does not contain any butter or cream. Rather, it’s made with skim milk and cauliflower. Hot from the oven, topped with crispy, golden breadcrumbs, this dish is a great way to get kids (and adults) to eat their vegetables!
Most macaroni and cheese dishes are delicious but they’re also usually very high in calories and fat. The base of the cheese sauce is traditionally made with a roux- a mixture of butter and flour. Whole milk or cream is then added to create a sauce and then cheese is stirred into the sauce. My Cauliflower Mac and Cheese doesn’t use any butter or cream. How is that possible? Instead of making a roux, I simmer cauliflower florets in low fat milk with a bay leaf and garlic to infuse the sauce with flavor. Then I puree it all together (minus the bay leaf) and it’s transformed into an unbelievably silky sauce. Then all you do is stir in some cheese and it looks and tastes just like a traditional cheese sauce. Your kids probably won’t even notice that they’re eating cauliflower.
I use just enough cheddar cheese to get a creamy consistency, cutting back on the large amounts of cheese found in most traditional recipes. Because reduced fat cheese does not melt as well and gives a slightly grainy texture, I use regular cheddar cheese and just limit the amount, using only 3 ounces for the whole dish. And to up the flavor factor, I stir in a little Parmesan cheese and mustard powder. Finally, to boost the amount of fiber and nutrients, I use whole grain pasta.
Nutrient-packed cauliflower forms the base of the creamy cheese sauce in my Cauliflower Mac and Cheese- a healthy makeover of a classic childhood dish.
- 8 ounces elbow macaroni (or other small pasta), preferably whole grain
- 10 ounces cauliflower florets (about 3 cups)
- 2 cups low fat (1%) milk
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 large clove garlic, peeled and smashed
- 3 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 1 cup)
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ cup whole wheat breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, place the cauliflower, milk, bay leaf and garlic in a medium saucepan. Simmer until cauliflower is tender, 10-12 minutes, stirring often to prevent the milk from catching bottom. Remove the bay leaf and discard.
Scoop the cauliflower and garlic out of the saucepan with a slotted spoon and transfer them to a blender. Add 1½ cups of the warm milk (reserve the rest of the milk). Carefully blend the mixture until smooth. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and stir in the cheeses, mustard powder, salt and pepper over medium heat until the cheese is melted. Add the reserved milk if needed to thin out the sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Add the pasta to the sauce and stir until it is all coated with the sauce.
If desired, you can serve the mac and cheese at this point. If you are making the topping, mix the breadcrumbs, parmesan, parsley and oil together in a small bowl. Transfer the mac and cheese to an 8-inch square baking dish sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture evenly over the top. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until it is heated through and the topping is nicely browned. Serve hot.