When I first saw Rachael Ray’s cauliflower mac-n-cheese, I had two thoughts. The first one was, Yum-o! (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist that.) The second one was, This reminds me a lot of Ina Garten’s cauliflower gratin, which I’ve made previously and really liked.
There are some fundamental differences between the two dishes. For one, the seasonings are different. Rachael's dish is seasoned with cayenne, paprika, and Dijon, whereas Ina’s dish features nutmeg. Rachael uses smoked Gouda, and Ina uses Gruyère. There’s also, obviously, the omission of noodles in Ina’s cauliflower gratin. Rachael’s recipe calls for cavatappi, but my store, much to my disappointment, has a pretty limited pasta selection and no cavatappi. I didn’t think elbows would work that well. I’d have to cut the cauliflower up pretty small to get it to be similar in size to the pasta, and I wanted to leave the cauliflower in larger chunks, like it is in Ina’s gratin.
What I finally settled on was the following: I went with Rachael’s seasonings (cayenne, paprika, Dijon) but used Ina’s cheese (Gruyère). I chose rotini for my noodles, because I thought they’d be about the right size, and their ruffly edges sort of remind me of the bumpy surface of the cauliflower. To finish the dish, I topped it with a fresh breadcrumb crust, just like in Ina’s recipe.
The end result was really good! I already want to make this again and experiment with the ingredients. I think a combination of cheddar and Gruyère might be good, and I’m also thinking I might try using nutmeg next time. Has anyone ever used nutmeg in a pasta dish before? I don’t think I have, and I’m intrigued by the idea.
adapted from Mac-n-Smoked Gouda with Cauliflower
1/2 pound rotini
1 small head cauliflower, cut into florets
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
2 cups whole milk
2 cups shredded Gruyère
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper
4 slices white bread
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt to season the cooking water, then add the pasta. Return to boil and cook for 3 minutes, then add the cauliflower and cook for 3 minutes more or until pasta is cooked to barely al dente and the florets are just tender. Drain well and return to the pot.
While the pasta cooks, heat a medium sauce pot over medium-low heat. Add 2 tablespoons butter and heat until it melts. Add the onions and cook for 5 minutes to sweat them out and turn the juices sweet. Raise the heat to medium, then whisk in the flour, cayenne, and paprika. Whisk together until the roux bubbles up, then cook for 1 minute more. Add the milk and, whisking frequently, bring the sauce to a quick boil. Once it bubbles, drop the heat back to a simmer and cook until the sauce thickens, a couple minutes more.
Add the cheese to the thickened sauce and stir to melt it, a minute or so. Stir in the mustard and season the sauce with salt and pepper. Combine the sauce with the pasta and cauliflower and then transfer to a greased shallow baking dish.
Remove crusts from bread and pulse bread to fine crumbs in food processor. Melt the remaining two tablespoons of butter and toss with breadcrumbs to distribute evenly. Scatter breadcrumb topping evenly over cauliflower mac-n-cheese, then bake in oven for about 20 minutes or until edges are bubbly and topping is golden brown.