Everyone has their favorite mac and cheese recipe. Whether you love Velveeta or sharp Cheddar, Kraft in the box or the homemade, baked variety, there are few who can resist the homey temptations of ooey, gooey, comforting mac and cheese. I am probably one of the few Americans who didn’t eat it, or even like it, growing up. I discovered it near adulthood, and it was a near revelation. Since then it has become a staple in my diet and repertoire, my favorite thing to make after a late night out, a wonderful, hearty dish for cold nights or after a long day.
This recipe is different from others. It’s grown-up. The kids will probably like it, but this is really a recipe for adults. The recipe I’m about to share with you is for Mac and Cheese with Cauliflower and Creme Fraiche. Yup. Roasted cauliflower gets mixed in with cheesy, gruyere-studded pasta, creamy creme fraiche, sharp Dijon mustard, and fresh tomatoes and topped with crunchy breadcrumbs. Yeah. It’s as good as it sounds. And maybe, just maybe, it’s a little healthier than typical baked macaroni and cheese thanks to the cauliflower. This could fit in with the whole Jessica Seinfeld hide your veggies so the kids will eat them mentality.
This really might become my go to baked macaroni and cheese recipe. The flavors just meld, the textures play, and the tomatoes add a surprising touch – a spot of acidity and brightness so often lacking in most traditional, heavy mac and cheese recipes. There are also many ways to play here based on preference and what you have on hand. For kids I might omit or reduce the mustard and go with a less sharp cheese. You could do a rendition with broccoli and cheddar, leave out the tomatoes, or add some interesting spices. Me? I’m going to keep making it exactly like this.
- 1 pound pasta (penne or rotini work well)
- 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
- Olive oil
- 1 cup chopped tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons butter
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup cream
- 2 cups coarsely grated gruyere
- 1 cup grated Parmesan
- 1 cup creme fraiche
- 1 tablespoon whole grain Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon (or up to 1 tablespoon) hot paprika (optional)
- 1 cup breadcrumbs, toasted
- Preheat broiler. Cook the pasta until just al dente. Drain and Set aside. Meanwhile, toss the cauliflower florets with a little olive oil (just enough to coat evenly). Place in an even layer on a baking sheet and broil, shaking once, until lightly browned (time will depend on your broiler. Mine is junk). Remove and set aside. Lower the heat to 350F.
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and stir, 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the cream. Cook until the sauce thickens, whisking occasionally, about 4 minutes. Add about 1½ cups of the Gruyere and whisk until fully melted and sauce is smooth. Whisk in about ½ of the Parmesan, then the creme fraiche and mustard. Add the paprika to taste and season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat.
- Stir together the pasta, cheese sauce, cauliflower, and tomatoes. Spoon in half of the mixture to a large (13x9x2-inch at the minimum) baking dish. Sprinkle with the remaining Gruyere. Cover with the other half of the pasta mixture and top with Parmesan and bread crumbs. Bake pasta uncovered until bubbling, about 35 minutes. Allow to cool a few minutes before serving.