Creamy Mac and Cheese with Cauliflower

With cauliflower blended into its sauce, this cauliflower mac and cheese recipe is a lighter, but equally delicious, version of the classic comfort food.

Cauliflower mac and cheese cauliflower mac and cheese

Doesn’t this cauliflower mac and cheese look amazing? I made it with a bright orange cauliflower from Farmhouse Delivery in Austin. Its color reminded me so much of sharp cheddar cheese that I couldn’t resist using it in a cauliflower mac and cheese recipe.

If you’re someone who craves creamy pasta in the winter, you have to try this cauliflower mac and cheese. Unlike many mac and cheese recipes, it doesn’t call for heavy cream, cream cheese, or even whole milk. Instead, I make the creamy sauce with blended, steamed cauliflower pieces, Dijon mustard, smoked paprika, garlic, shallot, and sherry vinegar. The final version still comes out luscious, tangy, and creamy, but it’s much lighter than your average mac n cheese. Serve it as a side dish with a winter salad or your favorite protein, or enjoy it as a meal on its own!

 

cauliflower mac and cheese cauliflower mac and cheese

Cauliflower Mac and Cheese Variations

To add richness to the cauliflower sauce, you can use either cashew cream or cheddar cheese. Even Jack admitted that they turned out pretty darn similar (although don’t tell him I said that). Pictured above is the vegan cashew cream version, and its recipe is listed below. I slightly un-veganized it by adding a little bit of Parmesan cheese on top, and if you want to go further in that direction, a layer of cheddar would be great too. Whichever way you go, this is a lighter, healthier mac thanks to the cauliflower in the sauce. (And, of course, you can use regular white cauliflower if that’s what you have).

If you prefer to make a cheese sauce with cheddar cheese as well as cauliflower, omit the cashew cream in the recipe below, and replace it with 3/4 cup shredded cheddar.

orange cauliflower

If you love this cauliflower mac and cheese…

Try my creamy broccoli pasta, vegan mac and cheese, sun dried tomato pasta, or orecchiette next!


4.7 from 7 reviews

Cauliflower Mac & Cheese

 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Cauliflower mac & cheese is a healthier, lighter version of the classic comfort food. Vegan and gluten-free options.
Author:
Recipe type: Main dish
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 1 big head of cauliflower, chopped (4 cups for the sauce, save the rest to add before baking)
  • 12 ounces brown rice elbow pasta
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ¾ - 1 cup cashew cream (see recipe below) or sharp cheddar
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • Sea salt and fresh black pepper
  • Pasta water, as needed to thin
Topping options:
  • ¼ cup panko bread crumbs (or gf panko)
  • Non-vegan option: sprinkle ¼ - ½ cup Parmesan cheese
  • Super cheesy option: add an extra handful of cheddar under the panko
  • ¼ cup chopped chives
  • A few pinches of red pepper flakes
Cashew cream: (this makes extra & can be made ahead)
  • 1 cup cashews, soaked for a few hours (strain soaking water before using)
  • ¼ - ½ cup water
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • ¼ cup minced shallot
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Sea salt
Instructions
  1. If you're making the vegan option, start by making your cashew cream. Place all ingredients in a blender, and blend until smooth. Scoop the cream out of the blender and set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the 4 cups of cauliflower florets and cook until tender but not mushy, about 8 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to drain and scoop the cauliflower into a blender. When the cauliflower is out, bring your water back up to a boil and add the pasta.
  4. Meanwhile, make the sauce. To your blender, add the Dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, smoked paprika, salt, and pepper, and puree along with the 4 cups cauliflower florets. Add about ¾ cups of cashew cream (or cheddar cheese) and the sherry vinegar, and blend again. Add starchy pasta water, as needed, to thin the sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings. For a richer sauce, add more cashew cream or cheese.
  5. When your pasta is al dente, set aside a cup or so of pasta water, then fully drain your pasta and the water out of the large pot. Return the cooked pasta to the pot and stir in the sauce. Add reserved pasta water, as needed, to create a creamy sauce.
  6. Pour your pasta into a large baking dish. Place the remainder of the cauliflower florets on top. Top with a sprinkling of panko, Parmesan cheese (if using) and a drizzle of olive oil. (Optional: make it extra cheesy by adding a layer of sharp cheddar underneath the panko and Parmesan).
  7. Bake until the top is golden and crispy - about 12-20 minutes depending on the size of your dish.
  8. Remove from oven and top with chives and red pepper flakes.
Notes
It's up to you how light/healthy you want to make this - pile in the cashew cream and/or cheese to make it more indulgent, or hold back and make it a bit lighter.

 

95 comments

Leave a comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Rate this recipe (after making it):  

  1. Nora
    06.05.2020

    I love love love your website and recipes. I’ve make about 5 at this point and none have disappointed!
    This recipe is a great and healthy alternative to the Mac and cheese I’ve been craving all week (lol)
    I wonder if the pasta can be replaced with spaghetti squash and how that’d turn out. I’ll try it sometime
    Thanks for putting out great content!!

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      06.05.2020

      Hi Nora, I’m so glad you’ve been enjoying the recipes! I’d make the sauce and pour it over roasted spaghetti squash. I probably wouldn’t bake it all together, it might get watery. Let me know if you give it a try!

  2. Nora
    06.05.2020

    I love love love your website and recipes. I’ve make about 5 at this point and none have disappointed!
    This recipe is a great and healthy alternative to the Mac and cheese I’ve been craving all week (lol)
    I wonder if the pasta can be replaced with spaghetti squash and how that’d turn out. I’ll try it sometime
    Thanks for putting out great content!!!

  3. Geri
    04.05.2020

    Decided to give this recipe a try with the last of some ingredients in my kitchen. I used a regular white cauliflower and found the paprika gave the sauce a lovely golden colour so thankfully a coloured cauliflower isn’t essential. The garlic (and maybe shallot) is quite intense since the sauce isn’t cooked long enough for the garlic to mellow out – or maybe I had particularly large cloves? Also I opted to use the last of my cheese on top only and didn’t have any cashews and suspect using either in the sauce probably helps cut the garlicky bite. Had to tinker with it a bit to tame it. Will consider making again but suggest to others to start with 1/2 tsp and no more than 1 tsp of garlic. Next time I might roast the garlic and shallot in advance so they’re not as harsh.

  4. Marlies
    03.27.2020

    This was so delicious! I used 1/2 cup if Cheddar and added about a half a tablespoon of miso and some nutritional yeast to amp up the flavor even more 🙂 my boyfriend and I absolutely loved it

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      03.29.2020

      Hi Marlies, I’m so glad you both loved it!

  5. Jan
    03.13.2020

    I made this with a few modifications because I wasn’t planning to bake it, and it came out amazing! I didn’t have mustard so I used Worcestershire, and sautéed the garlic and onion (subbed for shallot) before blending everything. I finished the pasta in the sauce and added peas and carrots. Will definitely be trying the baked version soon, thank you!

  6. Laura
    11.13.2018

    Hi. I’m so glad to run across this recipe. My 14-year-old decided she wanted to go Vegan this past year, so I’m always looking for new recipes. My question is whether you use raw cashews or dry roasted to make the cashew cream? I’m guessing raw but can either work? Thanks!

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      11.13.2018

      Hi Laura, they need to be raw cashews so that the sauce tastes neutral (and cheesy-like), and not too cashew-ey. I updated that in the recipe – thank you!

  7. Meghan from nutritionwithmeghan.blogspot.com
    04.17.2016

    Absolutely delicious with gluten-free pasta! I broiled the dish of mac n cheese to brown the cheese on top (white cheddar and parm) for 4 minutes at the end. Thank you for the inspiration!

  8. Ozzie
    02.15.2016

    I am going to make this this week! I was wondering if you thought roasting the cauliflowers instead of steaming would add anything to or detract from the recipe? Thanks!

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      02.15.2016

      Hi Ozzie, cooking the cauliflower in the water helps the sauce blend better and become more creamy. I’ve tried it both ways, and roasting takes too much of the moisture out of the cauliflower. Hope that helps!

  9. Alex
    05.15.2015

    So, I just made this. It was so good!!! This may just be the best Mac n “cheese” ever. My four year old son even loved it. 🙂 I only had regular white cauliflower but I’d love to try it again with the yellow/orange variety. Thanks so much for sharing your awesome recipes!!

  10. Naomi
    01.14.2015

    Hi! I just found this recipe posted on Nylon and I can’t wait to make it. This might be a novice question, but should the whole florets that are added at the end be raw or cooked? I would imagine that they need to be cooked since 20 mins in the oven might leave them crunchy, but I wouldn’t want them to get too soft either! Thanks!

    • jeanine
      01.14.2015

      Hi Naomi,

      If you break the florets into pretty small pieces, 20-ish minutes should be enough. I didn’t pre-cook my cauliflower – I placed them on top and they roasted nicely.

  11. Shelly
    11.06.2014

    It’s not very often I make a recipe more than once. But my CSA delivered an orange cauliflower & this was the first thing that came to mind! This week I’m challenging myself to not grocery shop in order to up what I have. So instead of shallot (because I’m all out!) I used regular ol yellow onion but added an extra clove of garlic to the sauce. Before baking I also added diced homegrown red & orange bell pepper, frozen peas & chopped kale- cause why the kale not!
    I loved this recipe just as you have it and adding more colorful veggies made it all the more fun. My parents were both very impressed so I consider it a major win!
    Thank you for always providing such solid recipes!

  12. Keely from awholesomeapproach.com
    11.04.2014

    Made for dinner tonight and was a hit! Even with my picky 10 year old! Thank you Love & Lemons!

  13. Paul
    10.21.2014

    Hello,

    I am an ok chef and a young guy who doesn’t subscribe to any particular diet. However, I recently began seeing a vegan and I made this for our first date. She was quite impressed and I enjoyed it as well. Thanks for sharing this recipe!

    Paul

    • jeanine
      10.23.2014

      aw, so glad she liked it – thanks for sharing!

  14. christine
    09.23.2014

    thank you so much for sharing this recipe! I adapted from it for dinner and really really loved it! 🙂

  15. Crystal from go-hx2hhq.plzgoto.pw
    07.08.2014

    Wow, wonderful weblog structure! How lengthy
    have you ever been running a blog for? you made running a blog look easy.
    The whole look of your web site is wonderful, as
    well as the content material!

  16. A delicious sounding variation of one of my all time fave dishes. This one will certainly get a test drive.

  17. Jenny Black from dragonflyhome.wordpress.com
    06.06.2014

    I made the cauliflower mac and cheese for my family. We loved it! It tasted great, and I loved the fact that there was cauliflower in it. Thanks for the recipe.

  18. Lisa Marie B.
    03.29.2014

    Because of this post I’m signing up for Farmhouse Delivery! I like that it was started by 2 women in Austin, it seems to spread the CSA love out to multiple farms, and they deliver (which I’m very grateful for as a new mama)– I’ll also be checking out this yummy recipe next soon, so happy I found your blog!

    • jeanine
      03.31.2014

      Hi Lisa, this makes me so happy to hear! It’s such a wonderful company, they do such great things for the local farm community. Stephanie, the owner, is so inspiring to me.

A food blog with fresh, zesty recipes.
Photograph of Jeanine Donofrio and Jack Mathews in their kitchen

Hello, we're Jeanine and Jack.

We love to eat, travel, cook, and eat some more! We create & photograph vegetarian recipes from our home in Chicago, while our shiba pups eat the kale stems that fall on the kitchen floor.