Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Macaroni and Cheese That Might Not Kill You

Let's get one thing straight. There is no way that eating a half-pound of cheese for dinner can be called healthy. However, if you sneak some cauliflower in there, you increase the fiber and add some vegetables to what is normally a pretty decadent meal.

The trick is to cut your cauliflower into cooked pasta-sized pieces, then it hides among the pasta, stealthily adding nutrients to your dinner. Really, you don't notice it unless it gets pointed out to you. I have successfully served this to avowed no-vegetable-eaters.

I make a double batch and freeze half of it, unbaked, in single-serve portions.

Stealthy-Healthy Macaroni & Cheese
  • 1/2 a head of cauliflower, cut into small florets (see below - if you just want to make regular mac and cheese, leave out the cauliflower and use a pound of pasta)
  • 1/2 pound macaroni, gemelli, cavatappi, fiore, etc.
  • salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups milk (I use 2 cups 1% and 2 cups whole milk)
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 cups shredded (12 ounces) sharp white cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup finely grated (2 ounces) Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs, coarse dry breadcrumbs work too)
Put a large pot of salted water on to boil. When boiling, add the cauliflower and cook until just tender (about 3-5 minutes). To save yourself from having to boil a big pot of water again: scoop the cauliflower out into a colander and bring the water back to a boil again. Drop in the pasta and cook 1 to 2 minutes less than package instructions (you want it extra al dente). Drain, rinse with cool water, and return to pot with the cauliflower.

Make the cheese sauce. Depending on your confidence in the kitchen, do this while the water is boiling and the pasta cooking, or wait until the pasta's done so you don't get distracted.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour; cook, whisking, 1 minute. Add milk, cayenne, nutmeg, and 2 teaspoons salt; bring to a simmer. Cook, whisking occasionally, until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in cheeses until smooth. You have just made cheese sauce. Taste for salt and adjust if needed.

Pour the sauce over pasta and cauliflower and toss to coat - it will be saucy (I like a "wet" mac and cheese). Spoon the pasta into a large baking dish (9" x 13") or four smaller dishes. Sprinkle the panko over the pasta.

To bake: If refrigerated: Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes covered with foil, and another 15 minutes uncovered (for a large dish, smaller dishes will take less time). If frozen: Bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes covered with foil, and another 15 minutes uncovered (for a large dish, smaller dishes will take less time). I usually defrost a frozen one overnight.

Prepping your cauliflower:
Make sure you cut your cauliflower into florets about the same size as your cooked pasta will be (otherwise, it won't be stealthy. If you care not for subterfuge, bigger pieces are fine).

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

I found your site while google searching for a mac & cheese recipe with cauliflower. Thanks for sharing! It took me longer to make than I expected but I froze most of it so it'll last for quite a while. :)

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