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
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
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.
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.
Recipe by Love and Lemons at https://www.loveandlemons.com/creamy-mac-cheese-with-cauliflower/