Rachael’s Cauliflower Mac N Cheese

I don’t watch Rachael Ray’s cooking shows very often but recently, I caught her new show on the Cooking Channel which featured a Cauliflower Mac N Cheese dish that looked promising (recipe here). I loved her method of steaming the cauliflower whole in chicken stock. I was actually thinking this would be a great Thanksgiving side dish and another way to serve cauliflower. Rachael said this recipe can be made in 1 pot. Sure you can do everything in one pot if you want to cook everything in series but 2 pots really is the better way to go.  

This recipe calls for Gruyere cheese, which is kind of expensive if you’re on a budget. Also freshly grated Parmigiano cheese is better than the Parmesan cheese from the container. The recipe doesn’t state how much 1 cup of shredded cheese is in weight so I approximated it in the recipe below. I played around with the various cheese a bit and decided to add one more kind of cheese that I really like, Fontina. I thought the flavor of Fontina would go well with Gruyere. Some of the milder version (such as Danish) of Fontina can taste a bit like Gruyere and is often a bit cheaper than Gruyere. So maybe even a good substitute if the Gruyere is expensive in your region. Fontina tends to melt smooth, too, btw.

I increased the amount of cheese from the original recipe but then I like my mac-n-cheese on the cheesy side. Lots and lots of cheese. Feel free to cut back a bit to taste. If you have a Dutch oven or a oven-proof pot, you can use that instead of a baking dish, which is what I did. You’ll need about a 5-quart Dutch oven or pot to hold everything. You can also use regular pasta if you don’t like whole wheat pasta. I used whole wheat penne and neither of us could tell that it was whole wheat. Tasted great and I think it added a little of a nutty flavor to the whole dish. Just remember to undercook the pasta by 2 minutes from the package instructions since it will finish off in the oven.

A note about sage. If you are using dried sage, use 1-2 teaspoon and add it to the pot with the garlic and onions so that the dried leaves can reconstitute a bit and bring out the flavor. Of course if you can get fresh, all the better.

This recipe could easily feed the two of use 3x as a main dish. It is very filling and rich so doesn’t take much. I put the leftovers in individual ramekins and froze them. This dish freezes really well and to reheat. Defrost at room temperature and pop it in the oven (make sure the dish is freezer-to-oven safe) at 400 degrees F for 40 minutes or so until heated through. For a quicker method, it can go into the microwave frozen, heat for about 3-4 minutes on high, then pop it into the oven for about 15 minutes to crisp up the top. Also note that this recipe is a great make-ahead meal (noted below).

Adapted from Rachael Ray

Ingredients:

  • Salt (for boiling the pasta)
  • 1 pound short cut pasta (recommended: macaroni, ziti or penne rigate or, whole wheat or whole grain pasta)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large head cauliflower
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • About 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • 3 sprigs fresh sage leaves, very thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 cup shredded sharp white Cheddar cheese, about 4 oz
  • 1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese, about 4 oz
  • 1 cup shredded Parmigiano cheese, about 4 oz
  • 1 cup shredded Fontina cheese, about 3 oz
  • 1 small bundle watercress, washed and chopped

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (skip this step if making this as a make-ahead meal).

Bring water to a boil for pasta. Salt the water and undercook the pasta by 2 minutes from the instructions on the package. Drain and set aside.

While the water comes to a boil, in a covered Dutch oven or oven-proof pot, heat extra-virgin olive oil over medium to medium-high heat. If using the Dutch oven or pot for baking, make sure the pot can hold at least 5 quarts. Cut the core away from the cauliflower and set the head into the pot and add no more than 1 cup stock, cover and steam 12 to 15 minutes until tender. Remove and separate the cauliflower into florets. Discard liquid from pot.

Over medium heat in the same pot, melt the butter, then add onions and garlic. Also add dried sage if using. Saute for 3 to 4 minutes until tender. Add flour and whisk for 1 minute. It will be very thick. Slowly add in the milk while whisking. Season with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and fresh sage (if using). When thickened, about 3-5 minutes, stir in the Dijon mustard and 2/3 of the combined cheeses. Stir to combine everything.

Add pasta and cauliflower to the cheese sauce, top with remaining cheese. If using a baking dish, pour mixture into baking a buttered baking dish. If making this as a make-ahead meal, cool completely and cover, refrigerate or freeze until ready to eat.

Bake in a preheated 400 degree F oven until brown. Use a baking sheet under the Dutch oven or baking dish to catch the bubble-over, about 40 to 45 minutes.

This shot was about 30 minutes in the oven. Still not quite brown on the top but you can see all the rich cheesy goodness. I was a little surprised that it wasn’t as creamy as it looked but the flavor was definitely not something you’d get from a box. Kind of a grown-up mac-n-cheese if you will. And best part is that you get a good serving of veggie in it too. We enjoyed the flavor of the cauliflower as part of the dish but if you don’t like cauliflower, you might not like this. Of course you could just leave out the cauliflower altogether.

Hope everyone has a fantastic week!

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