This easy and extra cheesy one-pot mac and cheese dinner gets a heathified veggie bump thanks to caramelized cauliflower added to the velvety cheese pasta to create a whole new take on a comfort food favorite.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a 783 times. There’s nothing like sneaking a little healthy into dinner and knowing the thrill of everyone at the table loving it. And even better when they ask for more.
Break out the mom victory dance!
It’s one of my secrets when it comes to feeding kids of all ages. For instance, my husband. He’s the biggest kid I know and not the biggest fan of cauliflower. But when that bulbous head of a vegetable is cooked to become caramelized and sweet, and mixed with macaroni that’s coated in a silky, creamy, cheese sauce? Suddenly, he’s just as much a fan as Smudge has been since she was a wee toddler.
Sneaking healthy in. It’s my secret weapon at meal time.
This year I couldn’t be more pleased to be partnering with a brand I grew up with. Not only grew up with, but honestly ate every. single. day. I don’t think I can even remember a time when Cache Valley Cheese wasn’t in my parents’ fridge waiting for me to slice and layer in one of my famous turkey sandwiches, melt over a freezer burrito, or add a perfectly cut square slice to my liverwurst and pickle topped Triscuits for my after school snack while watching re-runs of The Brady Bunch. Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!
And please, don’t even judge me when I admit to slathering thick slices of mild cheddar with mayo and eating it just. like. that.
Cache Valley Cheese has been with me and my family forever, and I can’t wait to share my food memories and favorite recipes featuring it’s high-quality, calcium-rich cheeses here on the blog this year.
So let’s get started!
Putting cauliflower into mac and cheese recipes is a pretty popular idea these days, but it seems that I see a lot of recipes that are using the cauliflower as a replacement for macaroni or pasta in the beloved cheese sauce.
That is NOT the case here! Instead, it’s all about adding these cauliflower chunks of veggie nutrition to the same delicious pot WITH the pasta. Because you KNOW I love my pasta.
Cauliflower comes in several hues these days, so if available, look for the orange cauliflower to match and meld into your cheesy sauce. It helps to avoid the pesky question of, “What IS THIS?” when spied upon the first forkful with a glaring stink-eye. If you can’t find an orange one, regular white cauliflower tastes exactly the same. I like to cut my florets pretty small so they literally melt into the sauce, making it a perfect sneak-attack for picky eaters.
The cauliflower is cooked in a very large skillet, as is the rest of this dish, making for at least one less dish to wash. One more vote for victory.
The garlic is cooked in a bit of butter and then the cauliflower goes in, cooking for 10 minutes or so, until it’s sweetened and caramelized. I add some water at about the half way point to help steam and move the whole cauliflower caramelization process along.
For this mac and cheese recipe I used a combination of Cache Valley Cheese’s Medium Cheddar to really get that cheese-flavor point across the palate, and Colby and Monterey Jack to add to the sauce’s cream factor. Calcium. Protein. They’re naturally added in there too. The cheese is all added to the simple butter, flour and whole milk roux cooked in the same pan as the cauliflower.
Dirty dishes. Who needs ’em?
One of my favorite parts of this mac and cheese, and what pairs so deliciously with the creaminess of the cheese sauce, macaroni, and the tender cauliflower, are the garlicky bread crumbs generously sprinkled on top. The contrast in texture is spot on and instantly addicting. It’s an idea I borrowed from my Lobster Mac and Cheese recipe. And it’s perfection.
Since most of the cooking is done before mixing everything together, this dish needs only about 10 minutes in the oven just to melt it all together.
If you’d like make this ahead, just refrigerate before baking and add another 10-15 minutes or so to the timing. This recipe also reheats well in the oven for leftovers through the week. If there are any, that is.
Let the digging-in begin.
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a comment below or take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #foodiecrusheats.
- 1 pound pasta, I used large shells, but you could use elbows, rotini or capatappi
- 9 tablespoons butter
- ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs
- ½ teaspoon garlic salt
- 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
- 1½ lb. cauliflower, cut into ½-inch florets and roughly chopped into smaller pieces
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon white pepper
- 3 cups whole milk
- 3 cups Cache Valley Dairy Colby and Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
- 2 cup Cache Valley Dairy Medium Cheddar Cheese, shredded
- Kosher salt
- Preheat the oven to 400° F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, season generously with kosher salt and cook the pasta just until al dente. Drain and place back in the pot or into a large bowl.
- While pasta is cooking, in a large, high-sided non-stick skillet over medium high heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and add the panko breadcrumbs. Season with the garlic salt and stir the breadcrumbs often until golden, toasted and fragrant. Transfer immediately to a small bowl and set aside.
- To roast the cauliflower, in the same skillet, melt 3 tablespoons of butter. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the cauliflower to the pan, reduce the heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, and add ¼ cup water. Cook for another 5-7 minutes or until the cauliflower is softened and caramelized. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, then add to the pasta.
- To prepare the cheese sauce, wipe the skillet clean and melt the remaining butter in the same skillet over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk to combine, cooking for about 3-4 minutes, until the flour mixture becomes light brown in color. Add the milk while whisking and cook for about 5-8 minutes or until the sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon, whisking often.
- Once the sauce has thickened, turn off the heat and stir in the cheeses until melted. Pour over the pasta and cauliflower and stir to combine, getting the cheese in all of the nooks and crannys of the pasta. Transfer the mac and cheese mixture back to the skillet and sprinkle with the toasted panko crumbs. Bake in the oven for about 5-10 minutes, tenting the top with aluminum foil if the panko crumbs start to become too browned, and serve.
Hey, thanks for stopping by, make it a great day and make something cheesy, and good.
This post is in partnership with Cache Valley Cheese. As always, thank you for reading and for supporting companies I partner with, which allows me to create more unique content and recipes for you. All opinions are always my own.
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