I’ve long been enchanted by the idea of cauliflower and cheese – such a lovely duo; they seem to be made for each other: cauliflower’s earthy nuttiness mingling with the rich creaminess of cheese… despite this prolonged infatuation it has simply not been enough to move me to any great culinary action.
Recently, though, I came across an idea for penne combined with cauliflower and cheese that set me on fire! How perfect! An adult mac-and-cheese with just enough vegetable thrown in to rate full meal status.
But was this workable in my tiny kitchen? Too ambitious? Well, it was certainly worth an attempt, but I had better think about it…
The following items would be needed for prep and cooking
- 1 quart pan
- Chef’s knife, small whisk and spatula
- 3-quart prep bowl with microwaveable steamer/strainer insert
- Small two-sided grater
- 2 cup measure, 1 utility bowl
- 6-cup baking dish for heating and storage
Consider 4 main steps in the prep phase
- Prepare the cheese sauce. It can be done well ahead, if time permits.
- Boil the pasta. Cook the pasta, if space permits and add the cauliflower about 4 minutes before the pasta is al dente. If not cook the pasta, drain, rinse, and hold.
- Steam the cauliflower. If not boiling, steam the cauliflower in microwaveable bowl, cover and cook for about 2 minutes, until barely tender.
- Assemble the dish. Add the cheese sauce to the pasta and cauliflower; stir gently to evenly distribute. Sprinkle breadcrumbs on top. Bake, or if preparing ahead, cover and chill.
Yes, I could pull this off. I just had to remember to work my plan, clean up as I go along, and rinse/ re-use my prep and cookware, or this could potentially turn into a real mess…
And I wasn’t disappointed: creamy, cheesy, with a slight bite from the cauliflower. The crisp panko topping was the perfect foil with its extra crunch factor. A simple green salad was all that was necessary to create a totally soul-satisfying meal.
Baked Penne with Cauliflower and Cheese
Inspired by Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes: Recipes from a Modern Kitchen Garden by Jeanne Kelley
1 ½ cups whole wheat penne
3 cups cauliflower, sliced and broken up
2 tbsp butter
1 shallot, minced
2 Tbsp flour
1 ½ cups milk
½ cup smoked Gouda cheese, grated
½ cup cheddar cheese, grated
2 tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp prepared mustard
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp butter
½ cup panko or traditional bread crumbs
2 tbsp Parmesan Cheese
- Prepare the Cheese Sauce: In 1 quart pan, melt the butter, add the shallots and cook 2 minutes to soften. Add the flour and cook 1 minute, whisk in the milk until there are no lumps. Add the cheese, stirring to melt. Add the salt, peppers, nutmeg, mustard and bay leaf. Simmer briefly to blend flavors. Set aside, can be made ahead.
- Bring pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and simmer until al dente, approximately 10 minutes. If adding the cauliflower, add it about 4 minutes before the pasta is cooked. Drain and rinse to stop the cooking process. The cauliflower can be boiled separately for 4 minutes or microwaved for about 2 minutes.
- Combine the pasta, cauliflower and the sauce and stir gently to distribute evenly. Spread it in buttered 6-cup baking dish. For bread crumbs: Melt the butter, add the panko and the Parmesan. Sprinkle evenly over the pasta mixture.
- Bake at the 350 degrees for approximately 25 minutes, until bubbly and browned on top. Yield: 4 servings.