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.

 

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  1. Alyce from downloadyoutubevideosoftware.blogspot.com
    03.26.2014

    I am no longer positive where you’re getting your info, however great topic.
    I needs to spend a while learning more or figuring out more.
    Thank you for wonderful info I was searching for this
    information for my mission.

  2. Jane
    03.17.2014

    I’ve made this with a recent recipe from Veg. Times. This one looks a lot better.
    I’ll try it. When I have some lobster I may add some of that too for the ultimate. I had Mac and cheese w lobster in Sonoma at the Mission Inn. Nice to be pampered sometimes; a day at the spa, some wine tasting and this before a tub for two and a roaring fire.

  3. Jessica
    03.09.2014

    Hi this recipe looks delicious and I really want to try it but I can’t find any sherry vinegar. I was wondering what would be a good substitute for it?

    • jeanine
      03.10.2014

      balsamic, a squeeze of lemon or you could even skip it…

  4. Michelle
    02.23.2014

    Awesome! I live in Georgetown and have been researching where I can get local produce, so thanks for recommending Farmhouse Delivery.

    Also, a few months ago my mom made a soup with cauliflower, carrots, and cabbage. My son’s teeth weren’t in at the time so she pureed the veggies from the soup. When she gave it to me to test I could’ve sworn it was Velveeta cheese! We could not stop laughing about it. Whelp, that’s just what this recipe reminded me of.

    I just found your blog today. I’m already loving it!

    • jeanine
      02.24.2014

      Thanks Michelle! Definitely check out Farmhouse Delivery – I just love it 🙂

      Ha, this sauce reminded me of Velveeta as well!

  5. Linnea
    02.18.2014

    Thanks for this awesome dish! Even my boyfriend who hates cauliflower loved it. Now I know what to do with this veg when it turns up in my csa box.

  6. Ernest L Sewell, IV
    02.17.2014

    re: Cashew cream: When you blend all ingredients for the cream – do you include the 1/4-1/2 cup water that the cashews soaked in, as well?

    • jeanine
      02.21.2014

      Hi Ernest – nope, I strain out the soaking water first.

  7. I made this last week – with cheese rather than the cashew cream. It’s a lot lighter than the usual macaroni cheese sauce so not quite as comforting but nonetheless delicious. It pleased my veggie teen as she felt she could tuck in with relish. Thanks for the recipe

  8. It looks as if the leaves are hugging the cauliflower. Maybe it’s just me being crazy. Making this tonight.

  9. Lauren
    02.06.2014

    This was fabulous! Both my husband and 10 month old daughter loved it. Your blog has been a huge help to me over the last year as we have made the switch to a more plant based diet. Thanks for all the great inspiration and yummy recipes:)

  10. Erin from clevergirlreviews.com
    02.05.2014

    UMMM, that looks so good!

  11. Laura from thefirstmess.com
    02.05.2014

    Such a beautiful cauliflower! And it totally loans itself to some spontaneous mac ‘n’ cheese action. I’ve tried a few versions of non-cheese mac, but have never actually seen cauliflower used. Brilliant. Love the lemon, shallot, dijon and smoked paprika additions too.

  12. Leah from isabellefarm.com
    02.04.2014

    thanks so much for the shout out to CSAs!! as an organic farmer and avid promoter of all things veg, its much appreciated to see folks getting excited and spreading the word about local veg – thanks!

    • jeanine
      02.05.2014

      Hi Leah – thank YOU for all of the hard work you put in to grow real food!

  13. amanda from easylittletiger.com
    02.04.2014

    these colors are so beautiful. yum!

  14. chelsea from thegirlwholovedtowrite.com
    02.04.2014

    This looks amazing! Definitely trying this one out.

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.