It always amazes me how quickly the weekend dissolves into Monday. I’m thankful we have a holiday tomorrow. Thankful I have time to write up this post and for a rare glass of wine on a Sunday night. Still, I feel right now like I do on any Saturday night (even through its Sunday) and tomorrow I have to get myself busy and organized again for the week ahead. I had an extra day this weekend, yet I’m not sure where it went. I might have lost it in the three bags of recyclable paper and other too-small things that came from my son’s bedroom. I realize the paper thing sounds border-line hoarder… but he’s a paper folder and has saved his best paper airplanes and origami animals since forever… Eventually even precisely folded paper becomes wrinkly piles stuffed in the crevasses of bedrooms.
I often feel a bit guilty when I make Mac & Cheese – it’s just so rich… high-fat-creaminess. Unless I organize myself enough to also make a side vegetable or salad, I just can’t call it a balanced meal in good conscience. Still it is the kid’s favourite. So when I want to restore their belief that I am best cook in the world, I often turned to pasta in cheese sauce. It’s the sure thing. Sometimes you just need the kids to say “Mommy this is so good.”
Today I could hardly manage a cream sauce from scratch let alone side dishes and greens. So instead I added almost a whole head of cauliflower and called it cauliflower mac & cheese. Cauliflower is such an agreeable vegetable and it loves cheese sauce. It is mild, white like pasta so it blends right in. Pasta and cheese and vegetables. I feel better and the kids still love me. Everyone is happy.
I roasted the cauliflower first before adding it to the pasta and sauce. Roasting makes it sweet and deepens its flavour, taking this dish to the weekend food level. An illusion. Roasting doesn’t take much more effort than throwing the cauliflower in with the noodles to boil. But roasting feels like it took much, much more effort. To make this dish as simple and easy as I could, I used one pot to make the sauce and assemble the dish. Adding a bit of cheese to the top and sticking the pot under the broiler gives the dish that just baked look but only takes a few minutes. Another illusion. Two in one dish. I think that makes me a magician.
Yields 6 servings
30 minCook Time
- 5 cups of cauliflower florets, about 3/4 head of cauliflower
- 1 454g box of penne
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoon olive oil, divided
- 1 cup veg stock
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1 teaspoon mustard
- cayenne - just a pinch
- 500g very old white cheddar, grated, about 3 cups, divided
- 2 cups 1% milk
- Preheat oven to 375.
- Prepare cauliflower by cutting into bite-sized florets and tossing with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Spread on a baking tray. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until soft and lightly browned.
- Meanwhile, cook pasta in boiling salted water according to package directions, to al dente, pasta will not be in the oven long so don't under cook it. Once cooked, drain and reserve 1 cup of pasta water just in case you need to thin the sauce later.
- Meanwhile, melt butter with remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large dutch oven. Add flour and cook, about one minute, until a paste forms. Add the stock and cook down until most of the liquid evaporates. Gradually whisk in the milk and seasonings - mustard, nutmeg, cayenne, salt and peppers. Cook, stirring occasionally until thickened. This will take a few minutes. Remove from the heat and add about 2-1/2 cups of the grated cheese (set aside 1/2 cup for topping), stirring until melted and creamy. Taste for seasonings.
- Preheat broiler.
- Add the drained pasta and the roasted cauliflower to the sauce. If the mixture seems too dry, add a little of the reserved pasta water. Adjust seasonings if necessary. Top with reserved cheese and sprinkle with paprika. Place under the broiler until golden brown and bubbly on top.