Just like mac ‘n cheese….only better!
I would happily chug cheese sauce straight from a saucepan today, but that wasn’t always the case. My mom didn’t make it when I was a kid and the few times I tasted it at friends’ homes, it was often floury or glue-like, sometimes lukewarm and frequently served on top of overcooked broccoli or cauliflower. It really wasn’t until I started making macaroni and cheese from scratch that I embraced all the glorious possibilities cheese sauce has to offer. This dish is a case in point. Swapping out cooked pasta for lightly-roasted cauliflower and onions proved to be an amazingly delicious experiment. I added a little zing to the cheese sauce and spiked the breadcrumb topping with garlic butter for some added pizzazz. It’s a flavourful, satisfying vegetarian dish that just might become a new family favourite instead of mac ‘n cheese. Best of all, because the cauliflower doesn’t absorb moisture from the cheese sauce the way pasta does, you can assemble it ahead of time and bake it at the last minute. One last thought: if your family inhales mac ‘n cheese the way mine does, if you don’t tell them this is made with cauliflower instead of pasta, they just might not even notice. And if they do, they probably won’t care, ‘cause it’s so darned delicious.
- 4 cups (1 L) small (1 inch / 2.5 cm) cauliflower florets
- 1 cup (250 mL) chopped onion
- 2 tablespoons (30 mL) olive oil
- 1 teaspoon (5 mL) of your favourite seasoning blend (I used everything bagel mix)
- 2 tablespoons (30 mL) butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose or gluten-free flour
- 1 1/4 cups milk
- 1 cup (250 mL) grated cheese (I used a blend of mozzarella, Swiss and Parmesan)
- 1/8 teaspoon (.3 mL) cayenne powder
- 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) smoked paprika
- Salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) panko or gluten-free breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of garlic butter (or regular butter), melted
- Preheat oven to 400F. Toss cauliflower florets and chopped onion with oil and spices on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes, shaking pan occasionally.
- While vegetables are roasting, make the sauce. Start by melting the butter in a medium saucepan placed over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Slowly whisk in 1 1/4 cups milk to form a smooth sauce.
- Let cook for 3 minutes, stirring often, then whisk in cheese, cayenne and paprika. Cook, stirring often, until cheese has melted and sauce is thick. Taste and add salt and pepper to suit your preference.
- Transfer roasted vegetables to a casserole dish large enough to hold in a single layer.
Pour hot cheese sauce over top, jostling cauliflower so it is coated on all sides with the sauce.
- In a small bowl, combine the panko and melted garlic butter. Sprinkle evenly over the cauliflower and sauce.
- Put the casserole dish in the oven and bake until sauce bubbly and topping is golden brown, about 10 minutes.
- Serve hot with wedges of lemon to squeeze over top for an extra pop of flavour.