With cauliflower blended into its sauce, this cauliflower mac and cheese recipe is a lighter, but equally delicious, version of the classic comfort food.
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 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.
If you love this cauliflower mac and cheese…
Cauliflower Mac & Cheese
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- Bake until the top is golden and crispy - about 12-20 minutes depending on the size of your dish.
- Remove from oven and top with chives and red pepper flakes.