When I was in college I took two painting classes my senior year (hey, it was senior, why not?). One class I found particularly interesting and beautiful. It was taught by a Jesuit Priest named Father McNally. I found him fascinating. He was playful and sarcastic and it wasn’t until weeks into the course that I actually realized he was a priest. I remember we started our first class by mixing paints: 5 shades of grey (no relation to the trashy, poorly-written novel). We needed a pot of black, a pot of white, and then 5 pots of grey ranging from dark to light.
We painted with these colors ONLY for a few weeks. It was difficult to create depth and liveliness with such a small palette of color. One night, Fr. McNally introduced a new color to us: yellow ochre. Yellow ochre is this beautiful shade of golden yellow with a slight tinge of orange, almost marigold.
I fell in love with this color for some reason. When I paint now, just as a hobby, I still stick to these colors. Black, white, the greys…and ochre. Sure, Fr. McNally let us play with other colors as the semester went on, but there’s something about the way the ochre popped next to the grey. Something about the ochre gave my paintings life.
I had picked up some purple cauliflower at Whole Foods the other day, along with a head of golden cauliflower. I was searching for a way to describe the color more accurately when I remembered the yellow ochre and Fr. McNally.
The gorgeous color of the cauliflower was perfect for a recipe that I’ve been dying to try: cauliflower mac & cheese!
This recipe can be easily made vegan by substituting the cheddar cheese for cashew cream (recipe can be found here). Substitute brown rice pasta for a gluten-free option.
This recipe couldn’t have been more of a success! It’s creamy, rich, and you’d never know cauliflower was used. I’m putting this in rotation to make a few times a month.
Cauliflower Mac & Cheese
Recipe adapted from Love & Lemons
Yield: 4 servings
- 1 big head of cauliflower (4 loose cups, chopped, plus extra small florets to leave whole)
- 12 oz brown rice elbow pasta
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 3/4 – 1 cup cashew cream or sharp cheddar
- salt & pepper
- pasta water, as needed to thin
- 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs (or gf panko) or bread crumbs
- non-vegan option: sprinkle 1/4 – 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
- super cheesy option: add an extra handful of cheddar under the panko
- a few pinches of red pepper flakes
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add 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.
- In your blender – add the garlic, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, to the cauliflower, and puree well. Add about 3/4 cups of cashew cream or cheddar cheese, and blend again. Add starchy pasta water, as needed, to thin the sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings.
- 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 more reserved pasta water as needed to create a creamy sauce. Stir in the remainder of the cauliflower florets.
- Pour your pasta into a large baking dish (or a few individual sized dishes). Top with a sprinkling of panko, parmesan cheese (if using) and a drizzle of olive oil.
- 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 red pepper flakes.