Inspired by my one of my favorite mac ‘n cheese recipes from America’s Test Kitchen, I wanted to see if I could lighten things up (just a bit) for my family. So I started thinking about how I could do this, while still keeping things simple and totally delicious. I also wanted to use as few pots and pans as possible. This roasted cauliflower mac ‘n cheese recipe seems to fit the bill perfectly.
We have been on a total cauliflower kick for some time now, so it was a natural extension for me to see how I could incorporate such an underrated vegetable into a favorite family recipe. I decided by roasting the cauliflower, I could also add another layer of flavor to the macaroni and cheese. And since the cheese sauce covers it all up, a white veggie could be hidden easily from picky eaters.
If you wanted to add other veggies into this recipe, you easily can. Just cut back a bit on the noodles, and roast some other veggies along with the cauliflower. I think that broccoli would be the most natural fit because it pairs well with cheese, but feel free to experiment.
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Is this a healthy version of macaroni and cheese?
I guess it depends on what you consider “healthy”. Does it have multiple food groups, including a veggie? Yes. Does it have butter and cheese and carbs? Also yes. For me it’s all about balance.
I like to balance the butter, the cheese, and the pasta, with the roasted cauliflower. I also consider a meal that takes me about 30 minutes to make and is guaranteed to put smiles on everyone's face healthy for my sanity. Maybe not as perfectly healthy as a big salad or tofu bowl, but when everyone is happy, that’s a win in my book.
So, I guess it’s not classically healthy, but it’s still a good one in my book and I feel good feeding it to my family 🙂
How can I adapt this to fit my dietary needs?
I’ll be honest, I didn’t try this recipe too many different ways because we are all about the dairy here, so I can't speak to dairy free mac 'n cheese. But I can tell you it easily adapts to fit a gluten-free lifestyle.
Here is how I would make substitutions to make this gluten-free:
- All cauliflower, no pasta and add in some other veggies to make it veggies ‘n cheese. Spiralized veggies of all sorts would be good.
- Use gluten free pasta
If you are looking for dairy free mac and cheese recipes, I would check out these other bloggers recipes:
How do I make cauliflower macaroni and cheese?
First you’ll have to get the cauliflower roasting. Super easy, I promise. Chop up your cauliflower into bite size pieces, you can even use some of the stem. Put them on a parchment lined baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and a bit of salt and roast at 425 degrees until caramelized a bit and just tender (think like al dente pasta).
While the cauliflower is roasting you’ll start on the mac ‘n cheese.
Start by cooking the pasta according the directions on the box, being sure to liberally salt the water. I like to use cavatappi (large spirals), large elbows or shells for this recipe. I find they mix into the sauce the best while retaining the right texture. Once the pasta is cooked and draining, you can mix up the sauce.
In the same pot as the noodles cooked in, melt the butter, then whisk in the flour, the milk (just keep whisking to keep it clump free). Off the heat you’ll add in the cheese allowing it to fully melt completely, add the noodles back in and serve.
As an optional extra step before serving, you can put the mac 'n cheese in a baking dish, add a crunchy topping and bake for 10 minutes until its golden brown. Think french fried onions, crumbled ritz crackers, seasoned panko crumbs, etc.
This extra step really elevates the roasted cauliflower mac 'n cheese to another level (and it looks fancy, too). It's not something I do all the time, but if I'm feeding a crowd it makes for a nice presentation.
Tips and Tricks:
- Make sure you grate your own cheese instead of using pre-shredded cheese. The anti-clumping stuff they use will not allow the cheese to melt the way you want it to.
- I like to use a sharp cheddar cheese and a smoked mozzarella cheese, but you could use all cheddar or mix another cheese in with it. I would stay away from long aged or really hard cheeses as they won’t melt as well.
- Want to really kick up the flavor? Add cayenne pepper (amount is to taste) to the cheese sauce once you’ve added the milk, but before you add the cheese.
Looking for other easy pasta recipes your family will love? Check these out!
roasted cauliflower mac 'n cheese
- one head of cauliflower
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 12 oz pasta take out about ½ cup from 1 lb. box
- 5 tablespoons of butter
- 6 tablespoons of flour
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder or 1 frozen cube
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- salt and pepper to taste
- 5 cups skim milk you can use any type you like, but we have skim at all times
- 16 oz hand grated cheese I like to use 8 oz of cheddar and 8 oz smoked mozzarella
- roast cauliflower
- cut the cauliflower into small florets, about the same size as your pasta shape
- spread out on a parchment lined sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
- roast at 425 degrees about 30 minutes (until caramelized a bit but not falling apart or charred)
- macaroni and cheese
- while the cauliflower is roasting, start making mac 'n cheese
- bring water to a boil for the pasta, once boiling, cook pasta per directions on the box
- while the pasta cooks, shred your cheese and gather the rest of your ingredients
- drain pasta and begin making cheese sauce
- melt butter in the same pan that pasta cooked in over medium heat
- once melted, add in the flour whisking continously until it become fragant
- continuing to whisk, slowly add in the milk, being sure to get any flour clumps fully incorporated into the sauce
- add in the garlic, paprika, salt and pepper
- keep whisking every few minutes until the mixture comes just to boil
- remove from heat and stir in the cheese you have grated
- once the cheese is fully incorporated, return to medium heat and add the pasta and 2 cups of the roasted cauliflower to the pot
- stir until everything is well coated and heated through
- serve just like that or transfer to a 9x13 baking dish, cover with crunchy topping and broil for 3-5 minutes (watch carefully so it doesn't burn).
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