Cauliflower “Mac” & Cheese Recipe

By Christina Collins

Substituting Cauliflower for Elbow Macaroni and baking it in a cheese sauce is what this recipe is all about.

Macaroni & Cheese is my all time weakness. I can’t not order it when on a menu. Mention the word Truffle or Lobster in the same sentence and I’m a goner. But even I have limits and know I can’t always have Mac & Cheese anytime I want it. So when the craving strikes or a main dish is in need of a cheesy, delicious side dish, this Cauliflower Recipe is what I turn to. And it’s so, so good!

The fancy name for this dish is actually Cauliflower Au Gratin. Let me interpret- Cauliflower smothered in cheese sauce! While I dare not call it healthy, it is certainly a healthier version of mac & cheese. Added bonus – Cauliflower is a Cruciferous vegetable that is very low in carbs and high in fiber, which is never a bad thing. I guess what I am trying to say is that when I make this recipe, I only feel half as bad about indulging in it. Actually, who am I kidding? I never feel bad about anything having to do with cheese sauce.

If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of this vitamin rich vegetable, check out this article “21 Amazing Benefits of Cauliflower” by OrganicFacts.Net

How to make Cauliflower Mac & Cheese Recipe:

Pro Tips:

  • Make sure the cauliflower is completely dry after steaming. If it has residual moisture the cheese sauce will be wet rather than gooey.
  • You can make this a Gluten Free recipe by substituting cup for cup flour in the cheese sauce.
  • This makes an excellent side dish for grilled steaks.
  • Can be made in advance up to 24 hours up to adding the breadcrumbs. Remove from refrigerator an hour before baking to take chill off. Then top with buttered breadcrumbs and bake according to instructions.

If you love cheesy foods, also try these recipes!

Potatoes Au Gratin
This Potatoes Au Gratin recipe is savory, satisfying and also quite elegant. It’s a perfect special occasion side dish.
Ina Garten’s Mac & Cheese
Life is better when Mac & Cheese is in it so stop the search – this is the best baked Mac & Cheese recipe you’ll ever need.

How to buy and store Cauliflower:

Look for a clean, compact head with tightly closed florets. Avoid heads with loose or crumbly florets, brown spots or dull color. The leaves should look fresh and green. When storing it, Wrap the whole head in a plastic bag or plastic wrap, and put it in the crisper drawer to allow air exchange. Placing it stem-up will help avoid condensation on the head. Depending on the freshness when you purchase it, it should last five days. But like any vegetable, the sooner it is eaten after being picked, the better it will be.

Cauliflower Gratin (Cauliflower Mac & Cheese)

Cauliflower florets are steamed and then baked in a rich cheesy sauce and topped with fresh breadcrumbs for a delicious side dish.
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American, French
Servings 4 people

Ingredients
  

  • 1 3-pound head cauliflower, cut into 1 – 1.5inch large florets
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter divided
  • 3.5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups hot milk
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1.5 – 2 cup freshly grated Gruyere & white sharp cheddar cheese (equal amounts of each) – 1/4 cup of the shredded cheese combination set aside for topping.
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Bread Crumb Topping

  • 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs (Use a food processor to make fresh breadcrumbs out of cubed baguette, rustic loaf or just your favorite sandwich bread!) 
  • 1 tbs unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheese (equal parts gruyere and cheddar)

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

Make the Gratin

  • Steam the cauliflower florets for about 5 minutes, until tender but still firm. Dry and cool in a single layer on paper towel or a tea towel. 
    Cauliflower florets on Chopping board
  • Heat the milk over med-low heat, in a small saucepan until hot, but not boiling. 
  • Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a med – large size pot over low-med heat. Add the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. 
  • Slowly whisk in the hot milk to the butter-flour mixture and stir/whisk until it comes to a low boil. Boil, whisking constantly, for 1 minute, or until thickened. (It should lightly coat the back of a wooden spoon.) Off the heat, stir in 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 tsp the pepper, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, the parmesan cheese & the grated gruyere / cheddar mixture (ensuring to reserve 1/4 cup of the grated cheese mixture for the topping.)
  • Gently stir in the cauliflower into the cheese mixture.
  • Distribute the cheesy cauliflower mixture into a 8 x11 or similar sized baking dish.
    Cauliflower with Cheese Sauce
  • Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of the Shredded cheeses over the top of the cauliflower.

Make the Topping

  • Melt 1 tbs in a small saucepan
  • Off the heat, stir in the breadcrumbs
  • Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture evenly over the gratin.
    Cauliflower with cheese sauce and breadcrumbs before baking

Bake

  • Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is browned and the sides sizzling.
    Cauliflower Au gratin

Notes

This dish can be made in advance either up to an hour and set aside, and baked to order. Or, up to 24 hours, refrigerated, taken out one hour ahead, and then baked according to baking instructions. 

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