Doesn’t this cauliflower mac and cheese look amazing? I made it with a bright orange cauliflower from Farmhouse Delivery in Austin. If I could give one piece of advice to people looking to learn about cooking and eat more seasonally, it would be to sign up for a CSA.
What is a CSA?
CSA stands for community-supported agriculture. In a CSA “members” (that’s you!) pay a farmer or collective in advance for a certain number of deliveries of local produce or food products. Because members pay in advance, they give farmers the financial resources to start planting before they can begin selling produce through other outlets, such as farmers markets.
While some CSAs are all vegetables, I’ve seen others that include locally-sourced fermented products, eggs, fruits, bread, coffee, tea, or alcohol. Many CSAs deliver straight to your home, while others drop off shares at a designated pick-up spot. Lots of farms offer options for various share sizes or delivery frequency to meet the needs of your kitchen.
Why join a CSA?
There are lots of reasons to join a CSA – for one, your produce can turn into an amazing mac and cheese – but here are just a few of my other favorites:
1. You will support small farmers in your community… and your vegetables will be tastier because everything is better in season.
2. You will learn how to become a creative cook, rather than a recipe cook, which means you’ll spend less time and money at the grocery store.
3. You’ll become super impressed with yourself when you first learn how to whip something up out of “nothing.”
4. It’ll feel like Christmas morning when you get something unexpected and amazing like this super bright orange cauliflower.
5. Your husband will be happy that this farm cauliflower inspired the idea for cauliflower mac and cheese… something that wasn’t planned or editorially scheduled, yet somehow manifested itself onto our dinner table.
Now…for this Cauliflower Mac and Cheese!
Inspired by a bright orange cauliflower in my CSA box (pictured below), I whipped up this cauliflower mac and cheese! I made both a vegan cashew cream version and a cheddar cheese version of the cauliflower sauce. Even Jack admitted that they turned out pretty darn similar (although don’t tell him I said that). Pictured above is the vegan 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 that’s the star of the sauce. (And, of course, you can use regular white cauliflower if that’s what you have).
If you prefer to make your sauce with cheese as well as cauliflower, omit the cashew cream in the recipe below, and replace it with 3/4 cup shredded cheddar.
- 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.