Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cauliflower Macaroni and Cheese

After eating a bit too much of the Mediterranean White Bean Dip the main dish was just about ready and it came out of the oven looking beautifully cheesy and golden. Perfect little dish for a group of 4-6 people (we had 4 and I was more than happy to have some leftovers!). An extra plus was getting to use my new red baking dish, with these pretty swirly edges.

Cauliflower Macaroni and Cheese with Roasted Asparagus and Tomatoes
Pasta (a little less than 1/2 a box)*
1/2 Head of Cauliflower
1/2 cup chicken stock**
2 TB butter
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves roasted garlic
1 1/2 TB flour
1 1/4 cups milk
Freshly ground black pepper
Dash of nutmeg
Fresh sage leaves (3 sprigs/leaves)
1/2 TB dijon mustard
3/4 cup white cheddar cheese
3/4 cup gruyere cheese
1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano cheese

*I think this recipe works best with a curly pasta, like rotini, cavatappi or elbows - and feel free to go the healthy route with a whole wheat pasta.
**If you want to make this vegetarian, just use a vegetable stock instead of the chicken stock.

1. Melt your butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat and add your finely chopped onion. Saute for a couple of minutes until translucent and then you can add your roasted garlic cloves (leftover from when I made the white bean dip earlier in the evening).
2. While the onion is cooking warm the chicken stock over medium heat in a separate sauce pan. Add your cauliflower florets and steam for 5-7 minutes. Be careful not to overcook your cauliflower because it will continue to cook when you bake the dish in the oven later. As the cauliflower cooks the stock will cook off so you shouldn't need to strain it, but rather just pour the steamed cauliflower right into the bottom of the baking dish that you'll be using.
3. Back to the onions! Add the flour to the onion, garlic mixture and stir well to incorporate the flour into it. Then gradually add a little milk at a time, stirring as you add it so that you don't end up with clumps of flour. I used a 2% milk which added a bit more richness to the dish than using skim. The original recipes I looked at all called for whole milk, but I think it's totally unnecessary.
4. At this point you can add your fresh pepper, nutmeg, sage leaves and dijon. For the fresh sage leaves, just slice them so that they are small skinny strips because their flavor can be overpowering if you don't cut the leaves small enough. Stir together and you can let it heat over low heat until your almost ready to put everything together.
5. It's probably a good time to get your salted water boiling for your pasta. Just like we did with the cauliflower, be sure to undercook your pasta because it will keep cooking when you're baking it in the oven.
6. You can buy the bags of shredded cheese, but the fresh blocks are always better - albeit a bit more work to grate yourself. If you've decided to buy blocks, shred them now. Mix all of the varieties of cheese together in a bowl.
7. Once your cheeses are mixed together, add the cheese gradually to the white sauce you started earlier. Mix in the cheese after each addition until melted. Add all of the shredded cheese except a 1/2 cup, which we'll put aside to sprinkle on top of the mac and cheese before we put it in the oven. The cheese sauce should be pretty thick at this point - feel free to dip a spoon into the sauce and taste it to see if it's cheesy enough!
8. Add some of the drained pasta to the cheese sauce (you can add all of it if the pasta will fit in your sauce pan). Mine didn't all fit at once, so I put some of the pasta into the baking dish with the cauliflower and then put the rest into the cheese sauce. Mix together so that the pasta is coated and pour directly over the cauliflower and pasta in the baking dish. You can mix together a bit at this point so that all of the pasta and cauliflower is coated with the white sauce.
9. Sprinkle the shredded cheese we set aside earlier over the top of the casserole and it's ready to go in the oven. This is also a good dish to prepare ahead of time - so at this point in the preparation you could cover with saran wrap and put right into your fridge for later.
10. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and bake for about 15 minutes. If you've put it into the oven right after preparing it, 10-15 minutes should be fine. You just want the cheese on the top to melt and the entire dish to heat through. If you've had it in the fridge all day, be sure to take the dish out of the fridge about 1/2 hour before you're going to bake so that it can lose some of it's chill. It may also need an extra 5 minutes to heat up.

Cauliflower Mac and Cheese with Roasted Asparagus and Tomatoes
Despite the fact that this mac and cheese has cauliflower in it, I still thought we needed something green on our plate to add some color and more nutrients! I decided on Roasted Asparagus and Tomatoes because it's the perfect time for asparagus and they looked great at the grocery store. It's also easy to cook these. Roasted Tomatoes take a bit longer. Just slice your tomatoes and drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper and a bit of sugar (to help with the caramelization). Bake them in a 400 degree oven for about 40 minutes. Similarly, the asparagus will roast in an oven at 400 degrees but not for nearly as long - the asparagus should only need about 15-20 minutes. Be sure to rinse off the asparagus and cut a good 1/2-1" off of the hard ends of the stalks. Put the asparagus spears in a baking dish or cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil and roll around with your hands so that they're all covered. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and they're good to go in the oven. When the asparagus is done you can take it out and squeeze some fresh lemon juice over the top.
These tomatoes are done - the edges should brown up a bit!

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