Baked Cauliflower Macaroni and Cheese: Is there any pay-off in pandering to a kid?

27 Mar

This was not at all a sneak attack. This was a straightforward “Hey little dude, do you think you would like cauliflower if I made this recipe?”

Oh, yes, yes, I would eat it up, it looks delicious, definitely make it Mommy, make it right away, blah, blah, blah.

Baking bacon!

Baking bacon!

So there is no reason why, after troubling myself to get all the ingredients and getting my unwilling, intermittently vegan dad into the process, and committing myself to joining my son in eating a stodgy, creamy, cheesy, bacon-y mess of a fantastic casserole that in no way advances my desire to look good in a bathing suit by summer…there is absolutely no reason why said five-year-old little dude should be allowed to not eat the damn cauliflower, whether he likes it or not.

Mustard seed and rosemary, crushed

Mustard seed and rosemary, crushed

But of course, you know what happened.

Crusty bread works well for this rustic breadcrumb topper

Crusty bread works well for this rustic breadcrumb topper

“This recipe” referred to the mouthwatering pictures in Jamie Oliver‘s book Meals in Minutes, which I recently borrowed from the library and which sets out, not individual mix and match recipes, but dinner menus that are supposed to take under 30 minutes, if you follow his step by step instructions. I love Jamie’s work – use his TED lecture and other material with my ESL classes. But have a bit of difficulty following directives  – at least in my private life – I do okay at work, as I am not a complete anarchist, you know! –so I just picked out the recipes I liked!….anyhoo, this is a reasonable facsimile of what old Jamie sets out and it was really, truly, lovely. And I learned quite a bit from doing it, which is what Mr. Oliver intended, educator that he is. And it did only take about 30 minutes, once we had laid out the ingredients and equipment.

See how the bacon is not crunchy, but cooked through.

See how the bacon is not crunchy, but cooked through.

But Leandro started by refusing to try it at all, and then, unable to resist the macaroni and cheese part (did I tell you it has creme fraiche!?!) he started eating, but not without flicking the cauliflower bits  off his fork with the tip of his finger, which was not at all the point of this exercise.

This is the rustic breadcrumb texture you are looking for

This is the rustic breadcrumb texture you are looking for

Eventually he was convinced that eating some of the cauliflower would be the correct strategy if he ever wanted to have dessert again (he’s lucky I didn’t make the stewed fruit that was on the Jamie’s menu with the macaroni; he would have hated that!), but he wasn’t too keen, and now I have quite a lot of leftover scandalously luscious macaroni and cheese (with bacon! with bacon!) in the freezer that I won’t eat because of vanity and he won’t eat because of bloody-mindedness…do you think if I bung more cheese on the top I can use it for quickie meal reheats? I think I can. And even if I can’t, I will.

The max and cheese on the stovetop before the topping

The max and cheese on the stovetop before the topping

This is a fantastic idea for a buffet dinner party and I will seriously consider it for our next potluck. This kind of richness should be spread around a much larger, more appreciative audience!

Done! A grating of Parmigiano Reggiano punches up the flavor

Done! A grating of Parmigiano Reggiano punches up the flavor

Cauliflower Macaroni & Cheese (adapted from one of my heroes: Jamie Oliver)

4 rashers thick-cut bacon

1 large head cauliflower

1lb macaroni elbows

½ Tbs salt

8 oz sharp Cheddar cheese

1 tsp mustard seed

1 tsp dried rosemary

2 cloves garlic

4 thick slices of country bread (day-old preferred) in chunks with the crust ON

1 Cup crème fraiche

Parmigiano reggiano to serve

Preheat oven to 425°F and place an oven rack on the highest position.

Lay bacon on a 9 x 13 oven dish and place on the high rack in the oven for about ten minutes (until cooked through, but not crispy). Do not turn off oven or remove bacon from dish just yet.

Meanwhile, heat abundant water to boil in a large pot (or heat water in an electric kettle, if following Jamie’s speedy style). Clean and quarter the cauliflower taking off most of the stem. Place stem down in boiling water with pasta (or pour the boiling water from the kettle over) and cook according to pasta package directions. When you drain, put the colander over a bowl to reserve pasta water. You will need at least 1 1/3 Cups of that water.

Grate the cheese and set aside. Pound the mustard seed and rosemary to a powder in a mortar and pestle. Peel and chop the garlic. Place mustard and rosemary powder, garlic, and bread in food processor with the cooked bacon (do not wash out the baking dish; you will be cooking the pasta in it) and pulse until you get rustic crumbs.

Place the baking dish over the burners, turn the pasta and cauliflower into the baking dish where you cooked the bacon, and turn on low heat. Add 1 1/3 Cups pasta water, Cheddar cheese and crème fraiche. Stir it all together, gently breaking up the cauliflower. Add a bit more pasta water if the texture is not loose. Salt to taste, then sprinkle crumbs over the top. Bake on highest rack for 8 minutes or until golden. Top with grated Parmigiano and serve.

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10 Responses to “Baked Cauliflower Macaroni and Cheese: Is there any pay-off in pandering to a kid?”

  1. Conor Bofin March 27, 2013 at 5:38 pm #

    I hated cauliflower as a kid. I like it now that I am 54. There’s hope for that young fellow fo yours yet.
    Best,
    Conor

  2. Mad Dog March 27, 2013 at 9:45 am #

    I’ll eat it – send it to me 😉
    Oddly cauliflower was one of the few vegetables I liked as a kid.

  3. Karen March 27, 2013 at 9:12 am #

    I make a cauliflower and pasta dish but turning it into baked mac and cheese sounds yummy.

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