Mac and cheese was my gateway to loving cauliflower. Growing up I only experienced it as a raw vegetable left sad and lonely as the last thing eaten on a crudités platter. But in my quest to revisit vegetables I dismissed in my youth I made Jamie Oliver’s Macaroni and Cauliflower Cheese Bake and never turned back. It’s no revelation that any vegetable in mac and cheese is lovable, but cauliflower is especially so. Will had been flipping through How To Cook Everything: The Basics and bookmarked the Cauliflower Gratin with Bleu Cheese, which intrigued me but I didn’t have other elements to make it into a meal. The Jamie Oliver recipe is delicious, but creme fraiche is more expensive and not an ingredient I always have lying around. Marisa from Food in Jars posted a more basic veg mac and cheese last month that inspired me to work on my own basic mac recipe that I can adapt to whatever is in season or in my fridge.
My version has some different steps, including roasting the cauliflower (but if in a rush you could cook it with the pasta like Marisa does). Arugula is not a green I usually have around, and I might have otherwise used kale, chard, or spinach. There was a bit of cheddar sauce leftover from last week’s baked potatoes, and since the new sauce I’m making was essentially the same thing and I didn’t want to let it languish in the fridge I just added it on in. I think with this basic cheese sauce recipe I could make mac and cheese out of just about anything now.
Cauliflower Arugula Bleu Mac and Cheese
Adapted from Food in Jars. Serves 6.
- 8 ounces short pasta, like fusilli or penne
- 1 head of cauliflower
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1.5 cups whole milk
- 4 oz bleu cheese, crumbled (or 8 ounces of a less intense cheese)
- 2.5 ounces arugula or another green
- ½ teaspoon salt, plus more for the cauliflower and pasta water
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ½ cup bread crumbs (optional)
- ¼ cup parmesan cheese (optional)
Preheat the oven to 425F. Chop the cauliflower into small florets that mirror the size of your pasta. Toss in the oil and a sprinkle of salt, and then spread onto 2 baking sheets (so there is enough room for them to brown and not just steam). Roast for 25-30 minutes, tossing and switching the pans once.
Put the water on for the pasta, and start your sauce by melting the butter over medium heat in a small saucepan. When it is starting to bubble, add in the flour and whisk to combine. Continue whisking while the flour and butter cook for about 3 minutes, until it smells a little nutty. Slowly add in the milk, whisking in between additions (or while someone else pours, if you have an extra set of hands).When all the milk is added let it cook over medium heat (or slightly lower if it starts to bubble a lot) for 5 minutes. The sauce should be visibly thicker at this point. Add in the bleu cheese and whisk to combine. Add in the salt and ground pepper and turn off the heat.
When your cooking water is boiling, salt it and add in the pasta. Cook until al dente, about 6 minutes. Reserve ½ a cup of cooking water before draining the pasta. Then return the pasta to the pot, add in the roasted cauliflower, the arugula, and the blue cheese sauce and mix it all up. You can stop here and enjoy a stove top mac and cheese with a nice creamy sauce.
To bake, grease a 9″x13″ pan and add in the pasta and veg mixture. Top with parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. Bake in your oven (still at 425F from roasting the cauliflower) for 15 minutes. Let cool for a couple minutes then dive in.