A few months ago I was visiting Tracy in Columbus and we were deciding what to make for dinner. I had stumbled upon this recipe for mac and cheese a while before (cleverly saving it in my Google reader for an appropriate time) and offered it up as a possibility. It’s pretty much a safe bet to suggest Mac and Cheese with anyone, but Tracy and I had been through a few recipes in the past and we’re always looking for ways to make standard dishes better and more delicious.
We made the dish, it was delicious, I don’t remember many left-overs, if any, and then as we were discussing something else, Tracy said, “I be you could make that and substitute in cauliflower or something for the pasta.” That got me thinking. So the next time I was at the store I got purple cauliflower (because apparently I wanted it to look nothing like mac and cheese, but taste like it). I made the recipe linked above with pretty much everything the same except I substituted most of a head of purple cauliflower for the pasta.
In the same way that the recipe calls for cooked macaroni, I steamed the cauliflower before I added it to the other ingredients, and it was left a most interesting color in the bottom of the pan under the steam basket. At that point, I was a little worried about what they do to cauliflower to make it purple. I had assumed that it was like many other vegetables, which can be convinced to grow a different color by nutrients, species, or other natural means.
But blue didn’t seem all that natural a result. And my amateur research revealed that purple cauliflower was supposed to grow naturally, but was actually a type of broccoli and turned green when cooked, which, as you’ll see shortly, this didn’t. It stayed nice and purple to the very end. However, I had already committed to the purple cauliflower, it tasted like cauliflower, and I had no reason to believe the purple color would be any more dangerous than other food colorings, so I soldiered on.
I mentioned above that I followed the recipe pretty closely, but that’s probably a lie. Here is the recipe:
1 cup low fat cottage cheese
3/4 cup low fat sour cream
1/2 cup non fat or low fat milk
2 TBS grated onion
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
2 cups (8 oz) grated cheese- you can use all cheddar or your favorite cheese or a combination whatever you have on hand
4 cups elbow noodles cooked (8oz uncooked)
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
2 tbs melted butter or olive oil
pinch of salt, pepper, and paprika
Pre heat the oven to 350. In a bowl mix the egg through the ground pepper until mixed. Add in the cheese and mix, then fold in the cooked noodles. Spread into a greased 2 quart casserole pan and pat down to evenly fill the pan. In a small bowl, mix the bread crumbs, butter and salt, pepper, and paprika. Sprinkle over the pasta and cover the pan with foil. Bake for 30 minutes and uncover and bake another five minutes or until the bread crumbs brown.
*Feel free to add in anything you want along with the pasta. You could fold in some ham or broccoli, or maybe some roasted poblanos and use pepper jack cheese along with the cheddar cheese.
I left out the breadcrumbs. I’m on the fence about breadcrumbs in general, but when it comes to topping a baked dish with them, I say it’s useless extra calories. If you can’t get it crusty crunchy with just cheese, you aren’t cooking it long enough, in my humble opinion. I also substituted greek yogurt for the sour cream, and I do that pretty much all the time now. It saves me having to buy both yogurt and sour cream, and I think yogurt is probably better for you.
This is what I came up with. It was tasty. No doubts about that. The recipe says to add extras as you see fit, but I had already made it into a completely different idea; I didn’t want to add too much moisture to the solution. That’s what I was most worried about. Cooked pasta has a certain density and it’s already done all the cooking it’s going to do. It might pick up a bit of the moisture from the cheese, but basically, it’s going to stay in the same state. Cauliflower though, even though it was pre-steamed and drained, has more moisture because it is a vegetable. But all my worries were for naught, until it had set up over night, and there was a bit of draining into the bottom of the dish. The weird thing about this is that even though the cauliflower was a vegetable and on the whole a better thing to be eating that just pasta, I feel like it did less to disperse and enhance the cheese. I guess it has something to do with cauliflower and cheese combinations of the past involve a very creamy sauce-like cheese, and this was (because of the egg and cottage cheese) a cauliflower cheese solid. Another weird thing was that the purple bled out into the cheese a little (not natural), and that made looking at the left-overs a bit difficult.
A personal challenge for me with this recipe was that I got the stomach flu the day after I made this dish. When I should have been enjoying delicious creamy purple leftovers, I was puking. So, that put a damper on my memories of this dish. That would be my first recommendation, don’t get the stomach flu.
My second recommendation would be to use white cauliflower. No more purple for me; it’s just not worth the awkwardness. I would also make adjustments to make the recipe as a whole creamier. It might mean more cheese, more yogurt/sour cream, it might mean leaving out the egg. But really, I think it would have been more enjoyable with a little cheesy goo to go with it.
I absolutely think substituting out the pasta with any number of vegetables is an excellent idea for cheesy dishes, especially if you are worried sugar/carbs, but in the end you are going to need some carbs and macaroni and cheese is an excellent way to get them. Excellent and delicious. So when you start getting cauliflower in your CSA, try substituting the cauliflower half and half for the pasta. That most certainly will be enjoyable.