Cauliflower Mac & Cheese

With cauliflower blended into its sauce, this cauliflower mac and cheese is a lighter - but equally delicious - version of our favorite 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. 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.

cauliflower mac and cheese cauliflower mac and cheese

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.

orange cauliflower

5.0 from 1 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.

 

88 comments

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  1. You always have the best vegan mac n’ cheese recipes! I made your one with peas not long ago but this looks even tastier so I have a feeling we’ll be having a pasta night this week…

    • jeanine
      02.03.2014

      Thanks Shelly! So glad you liked that one – yep, I think this one is a new favorite for sure 🙂

    • Anna
      03.24.2014

      Hi – how long does the cashew cream last in the fridge??

      • jeanine
        03.25.2014

        Hi Anna – 4-5 days (if it separates, stir it. If it thickens in the fridge, add a little water and stir to loosen it)

    • Megan
      10.05.2014

      New to eating more of a plant based diet, not GF or vegan just trying to incorporate more veggies into my BF and I’s diet. This was to dieeee for! I did add about half a sweet potato, mostly for color but also added nutrients. Can’t wait to try more of your recipes!

      • jeanine
        10.06.2014

        Thanks! Your comment just made my day :). Thanks for letting me know you liked it so much!

    • Jen
      11.05.2015

      This was so incredibly delicious! Thank you for the recipe! 10/10 would make again.

  2. Yummm! This looks delicious! Definitely putting this on the menu for this week 🙂 xx

  3. This looks amazing! I’m so jealous of your orange cauliflower! I’ve been searching for romanesco, purple, or light green cauliflower, but no luck so far (I did find some great watermelon radishes at the farmer’s market, though!). I love that the color of the veggie inspired you to make something cheesy.

    • jeanine
      02.03.2014

      Thanks Becky! It’s rare for us to have these colors too, I was really excited to get this one 🙂

    • jeanine
      02.03.2014

      Thanks Katrina!

  4. Thanks for the shout out to support local farmers! We grow that variety of cauliflower at our farm. “Cheddar” is the orange variety that we grow and I love it! Turning it into healthy cheese sauce sounds pretty darn good to me! I’ll definitely share this recipe with our customers!

    • jeanine
      02.03.2014

      Of course! How appropriately named since it made me think cheesy thoughts 🙂

  5. Karis from karisann.com
    02.02.2014

    I totally agree about CSAs. I’ve been a member for 5 years now and it’s so great for all the reasons you mentioned. I’m still getting used to the new timeline though with my move from Wisconsin to Florida. Here in Miami the season runs from November to May, which still seems strange, but I’m loving the novelty of fresh local produce in winter.

    • jeanine
      02.03.2014

      Thanks Karis, so glad to hear! I hope you’re enjoying your winter produce and warm weather!

  6. This looks so delicious, I have been wanting to make a cauliflower mac and cheese for some time. I loved your sweet potato alfredo pasta recipe so I know this will be a winner as well. Can’t wait to make this!

    • jeanine
      02.03.2014

      Thanks Katie! So glad you liked the sweet potato alfredo! This one is pretty similar, a little lighter…

    • jeanine
      02.05.2014

      ha, thanks Lisa

  7. No, not pushy at all! I’d get some super cheap csa produce at the community college. I’m not taking classes this semester and I miss it so much. And yes, everything tasted much better than supermarket produce.
    This looks lovely. It’s drizzly here today – perfect for mac n’ cheese!

    • jeanine
      02.05.2014

      Hi Annie, sounds like a good class 🙂

  8. Asha@FSK from forkspoonnknife.com
    02.03.2014

    I have signed up for the CSA for a couple of years and realized that I love it and can leave it too 🙂 I love the amazing produce and its seasonality. But, I don’t like the idea of the predetermined quantities and not having a choice of taking 1 of a veg I don’t particularly like and more of one I do. I get that choice from my farmer’s markets! I also found that, atleast in NYC, the farmers’ market is way cheaper than the CSA share for the same variety of produce.
    Nevertheless, I love the concept of supporting the farmer and managing demand and if there isn’t an accessible, vibrant farmers’ market in an area, CSA is an awesome idea to subscribe to.

    • jeanine
      02.03.2014

      Hi Asha! I totally agree – I go through phases where put mine on hold… sometimes it’s easier to pick out exactly what I want. But every time I go back I realize I end up spending less money overall (I realize this probably varies by area – also, mine lets me sub in/out things I don’t like).

      Most of all, I love how it kicks me out of a rut of cooking the same things over and over. I’ve come to absolutely love some vegetables that I didn’t think I liked before. 🙂

  9. I’ve been searching for the perfect vegan mac and cheese recipe, so I think this might take the cake : )

    • jeanine
      02.05.2014

      thanks Abby, hope you like it as much as we did!

  10. Laura from themuseumscout.com
    02.03.2014

    I just re-signed up for a CSA after a couple of months off because I wanted to become a more creative/better cook. I totally agree about how it feel like Christmas morning when you get something new in your box. Right now I’m enjoying the challenge of trying to figure out what to make, but that enthusiasm ebbs and flows for me, too.

    • jeanine
      02.03.2014

      Hi Laura – it can definitely be challenging 🙂 The longer I’ve been getting it, the easier it has gotten…

  11. Who would have thought cauliflower would become such a superstar food! I must try this – it’s a wonderful idea!

    • jeanine
      02.05.2014

      thanks! Cauliflower is the new bacon right? 🙂

  12. Dang this looks so good! I just emailed it around the office and got people drooling big time! 😉

    • jeanine
      02.04.2014

      ha! thanks 🙂

  13. Amy from wrappedinnewspaper.wordpress.com
    02.03.2014

    This recipe looks delicious! I’ve not seen a vegan mac and cheese recipe that has looked tempting enough for me to give it a try, until now 🙂 I will definitely be trying it out the next time I get a cauliflower! Over here in the UK we have a similar veg scheme, getting seasonal produce from local farmers. I swear by it and I agree that it makes you an more inventive cook rather than just following recipes. I wrote a post about why I love me veg scheme so much 🙂 http://wrappedinnewspaper.wordpress.com/2013/10/25/convenience-shopping/ Thanks for the mac and cheese inspiration!

    • jeanine
      02.05.2014

      Hi Amy! Thanks for sharing, I really enjoyed your post… my thoughts exactly!

  14. Sarah
    02.03.2014

    Gorgeous! Thanks for the should out to local farmers and the fun of getting it delivered to your door. I agree! I’m a big fan of your site.

    • Sarah
      02.03.2014

      shout out, that is. (autocorrect!)

  15. This sounds heavenly, and I’ve actually recently been looking for a cashew cream recipe. Also, I used to work for a CSA. The family operation was so inspiring, and taught me how much work it takes to farm and actually make a living. I’m all for supporting the local farmers for all their hard work!

    • jeanine
      02.04.2014

      Hi Grace, thanks – yep, I can barely keep a garden going so I’m in awe of people who keep up entire farms! Hope you like the cauliflower cashew cream 🙂

  16. Pang from circahappy.com
    02.03.2014

    what not to like about this healthy mac n’ cheese!!! You are such an inspiration, I swear!!! — I am still too scare to commit to local farm delivery as of now, though I do the next best thing by buying from Farmers Market every week. Once I am a better cook, CSA or local farm delivery will be on my to-do list. 🙂

    • jeanine
      02.04.2014

      Hi Pang, you are a fantastic cook – are you kidding me!?

  17. Wow, this is beautiful! I make a sweet potato version that is delicious too! Vegan mac and cheese is the way to be 🙂

  18. Norma | Allspice and nutmeg
    02.03.2014

    This sounds incredible. I’ve been curious about CSA. I will be looking into it further.

  19. chelsea from thegirlwholovedtowrite.com
    02.04.2014

    This looks amazing! Definitely trying this one out.

  20. amanda from easylittletiger.com
    02.04.2014

    these colors are so beautiful. yum!

  21. 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!

  22. 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.

  23. Erin from clevergirlreviews.com
    02.05.2014

    UMMM, that looks so good!

  24. 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:)

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

  26. 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

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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!

  30. 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…

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

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

  36. 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!

  37. christine
    09.23.2014

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

  38. 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!

  39. 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!

  40. 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!

  41. 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.

  42. 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!!

  43. 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!

  44. 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!

  45. 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!

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.