So I had half a cauliflower in the fridge that I bought on a whim because they are looking so good at the moment, being in season as they are. Whole cauliflowers were actually going out cheaper than halves and I just couldn’t spend more and get less. Naturally I immediately thought of cauliflower cheese which led me to think about macaroni cheese and then I thought – why not combine them! Of course I wasn’t the first person to think of this (even though I felt inspired).
Jamie Oliver has done a version of macaroni cheese that uses marscapone and three other cheeses instead of making a white sauce but this just seemed like something that was likely to kill us (especially as a mid-week meal when we’re vaguely trying to be healthy). JO also has another that does actually use a white sauce and I’ve based my dish pretty closely on this with a couple of changes. My final indulgent flourish of crumbled blue cheese melted into little bombs of full on flavour that garnered the right kind of noises from those devouring the dish.
I didn’t actually have macaroni to use when I came to make this because Elvin had done the shopping and had bought me rigatoni instead (way too large and bulky for the casserole dish) so I used farfalle instead.
I also made a crunchy, fresh winter salad of finely sliced fennel, cos, baby spinach and rocket that made it all seem so much better for us (and really was a great foil to the richness of the cheesy goodness). The addition of chopped tomatoes in the bake plus all the cauliflower meant we got our veggie hit too. A tasty, tasty winter treat.
Cauliflower Macaroni Cheese (adapted from JO Killer Mac and Cheese)
Serves 4 (plus one little toddler who eats like a bird)
1 Tbl butter
1/2 Tbl olive oil
4 large cloves of garlic thinly sliced
1&1/2 Tbl plain flour
2 fresh bay leaves (or 1 dried)
1/2 cup dry white wine
salt and freshly ground black pepper
80g cheddar cheese grated
50g pecorino cheese grated
1/2 cauliflower cut into little florets, stalk trimmed and thinly sliced
250g macaroni (or other short pasta of your choice)
punnet of ripe cherry tomatoes diced
80g Stilton cheese crumbled
Preheat oven to 220C (200C for fan forced)
Fry garlic in olive oil and butter on a gentle heat for about 5 minutes then sprinkle over flour and stir continuously on low to medium heat for 5-6 mins. Slowly whisk in milk a little at a time to ensure a smooth sauce. Add white wine and bay leaves. Bring to the boil then reduce heat and leave to simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until thickened somewhat. Add grated cheeses and chopped tomatoes to the white sauce and then taste and adjust for seasoning.
Meanwhile, cook pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until it’s a bit firmer than al dente (as it will cook further in the oven). Drain the pasta but reserve the cooking water, returning it to the pan. Add pasta to the white sauce.
Bring the water back to the boil and now add the cauliflower and cook for 5 minutes, drain and add to the white sauce and stir through.
Tip the whole lot into a casserole dish and place in the oven to bake for about 30 minutes.
Divide amongst four (and a bit) shallow bowls and scatter crumbled Stilton over the top (even on the toddler serve if your little one is like mine and loves ‘strong’ cheese). Serve with a bitter winter leaf salad on the side.
Bitter Leaf Salad Dressing
3 Tbl extra virgin olive oil (best you can afford)
1 Tbl lemon juice
1 tsp honey
good pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper
leaves from a sprig of lemon thyme (or plain thyme)
1 small garlic clove crushed
Combine all ingredients in a glass jar with a screw top lid and shake vigorously. Taste for balance of tart/sweet/salty but remember that once spread around on the salad the flavours will dissipate a bit and they will also mellow if left for a while before using.