Dana Treat – Treat Yourself

Healthier Macaroni and Cheese

Posted December 5, 2010

Healthier Macaroni and Cheese
Dana Treat Original
Serves 20-25

In spite of the name of this dish, I almost never use macaroni when making mac and cheese.  It’s too small and boring for me.  Other short tubular shapes are more interesting.

1 large cauliflower (about 3 pounds), broken into florets
2 lbs. short tubular pasta (I used gemelli)
Olive oil
1 tbsp. Dijon Mustard
½ tsp. smoked paprika
3 cups 2% milk, divided
2 tsp. kosher salt
4 tbsp. (½ stick) unsalted butter
¼ cup flour
½ cup half-and-half
1 lb. extra-sharp Cheddar, grated
½ lb. Gruyère, grated
Panko or breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 375ºF with the rack in the middle.

Bring a large pot (at least 8 quart) of salted water to boil.  Add the cauliflower florets and cook until fork tender.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cauliflower to a food processor.  Add more water to the pot and then add the pasta.  Cook until al dente, according to package instructions, then drain.  Toss the pasta with a bit of olive oil to keep it from sticking and set aside.

Meanwhile, add the mustard, smoked paprika, and 2 teaspoons of salt, to the food processor.  Pulse until chunky.  Pour in 2 cups of the milk through the feed tube and process until you have a smooth and loose purée, adding a bit more milk if it seems too thick.  You want it like extremely thick cream.

Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven or similar type pot.  Sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the flour darkens slightly in color and smells nutty, about 3 minutes.  Pour in the cauliflower purée and stir well.  Slowly pour in the remaining cup of milk and the half-and-half.  Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until rich and thick.  Turn off the heat, add both cheeses, and stir until everything is nice and melted.

Place the cooked pasta in a very large bowl.  Pour the sauce over top and carefully mix until the noodles are completely coated with sauce.  Butter one extra large or two large baking dishes and then pour the coated noodles in.  Sprinkle with either panko or bread crumbs and cover with foil.  Bake for 30 minutes then remove the foil and bake for another 10.  The center of the pan should feel hot.

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