Mac and cheese. Just typing those words make my stomach growl. Maybe because I’m editing food photos right before lunch. We’re talking about the epitome of comfort food right here. It is without a doubt one of my favourite dishes in the world, and if I see it on a menu I will definitely, definitely order it and not share. Sorry, not sorry.
I’d probably include it in my last meal, with some kind of pie for dessert. My first introduction to this glorious dish was from a packet, as I assume most people’s was. Of course these days I prefer to make it from scratch and I like to think I’ve gotten rather good at it over the last few years… I’ve had lots of practice!
When I crave the comfort factor of mac and cheese but a little bit lighter and healthier, I swap out some of the macaroni for cauliflower florets. They’re cooked together in the same saucepan to save time, and gives you a sneaky extra serving of vegetables. I really like the different textures too.
This meal is easy enough to make on a weeknight, but if your friends are anything like mine, they will love it at your next dinner party too! Maybe it’s nostalgia, or maybe it’s just the winning combination of carbs and cheese. I don’t know what it is, but this dish is a total crowd pleaser.
I’ve also added pumpkin to my bechamel sauce, which was a total revelation to me. I simmered the pumpkin pieces in some milk until they were soft, and then pureed it to a liquid. This also helped to thicken the sauce and gave it a delicious taste. Make sure to taste as you go along because if the bechamel is not seasoned well with salt and pepper, it will taste a little bland.
And I’ll even let you in on my secret ingredient – mustard. I like to use Hot English mustard to give the sauce a really nice taste and a little bit of a kick, but I’ve also had very good results using Dijon or even Wholegrain mustards.
One of my favourite variables to play with in this recipe is the kind of cheese you use. There are no rules here! You can use any good melty cheese that you like – or a combination of a few. Here I’ve used cheddar and gruyere because it’s what I had in the fridge, and it tastes great. Sometimes I can’t be bothered making the breadcrumb topping – even though it only takes a couple of minutes in the food processor – but I’m glad I did this time because it really adds a lovely crunch and the rosemary flavour goes so nicely with the pumpkin.
You can serve this lightened up Pumpkin Cauliflower Mac and Cheese as a main meal or a side to any protein you like. Your kids will love it, and you will feel good knowing that there are some hidden vegetables inside this delicious dish.
Pumpkin Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
Serve as a main meal or a side dish
- 1 small slice rye or sourdough bread, a few days old if possible
- 1 sprig rosemary, leaves removed
- 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
- Olive oil
- 200g dry elbow or macaroni pasta
- 1/2 cauliflower, cut into small florets
- Salt & pepper
- 1/4 pumpkin, chopped into 2cm cubes
- 2 cups milk, divided
- 20g butter
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1/2 teaspoon hot english mustard
- 1 1/2 cup grated cheese (I used a mixture of Cheddar and Gruyere)
First, make the crumb topping. Break up the bread into chunks and place into a food processor with the rosemary, garlic clove and a few swigs of olive oil. Process until it looks like chunky breadcrumbs. Set aside in a small bowl until later.
Place a large saucepan of water on to boil, with 1 handful of cooking salt to season. When water is boiling add the pasta and cook for about 3-4 minutes and then add the cauliflower to the same pot. When pasta is al dente, drain the water, and return the pasta and cauliflower to the saucepan.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F). In a separate small saucepan, place 1 cup of milk with the pumpkin and cook until boiling and the pumpkin is soft. Place mixture into your food processor and pulse until combined. In the same saucepan, melt the butter until starting to bubble. Add the flour and whisk to combine. Add the pumpkin milk, the other 1 cup of milk and the mustard and whisk well until the mixture thickens slightly. Season well with salt and pepper and add 1 cup of the cheese.
Stir the bechamel sauce into the pasta and cauliflower. Place into a large oven-proof dish and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs (you don’t have to use them all) plus the extra cheese and a little salt and pepper. Bake for about 30-40 minutes until the top is golden and bubbling. Serve immediately.