Apparently, I eat a lot of cheese. Can’t help it, it’s delicious. Regular cheese, vegan cheese, cheese substitutes, I want it in my life and I want it often. Unfortunately, no matter how much I love cheese, it never loves me back, so if I want my pants to fit, I have to make other wise choices when I use it. My favorite way to lighten up a recipe? Swap out anything I can for a vegetable.
Traditionally when you make mac and cheese, you’d made some sort of sauce involving full fat milk (or even heavy cream), butter, and flour. The first time, I used butternut squash, but when I saw orange cauliflower at the store, I knew it would work perfectly. Homemade mac and cheese is never as bright orange as what comes from a box or in a restaurant, so the added orange color reinforces the cheese flavor (but any color of cauliflower will work). Many recipes use fat and salt to add flavor, so when you take either of those elements out, you really need to boost the flavor in other ways so that no one misses it. I’m a huge fan of garlic in my mac and cheese, so I oven roasted a head of garlic and added that to the cheese sauce.
I did splurge a little on making a delicious crust for the top – if you want to save some fat and calories, leave the crust off or just use whole wheat bread crumbs. I also included nutritional yeast in this recipe even though there is cheese. If you have never tried it, this is the perfect time to ease yourself into it. If you’re not excited about it quite yet, there’s a note below the recipe for how to swap it out. If you want to get really crazy delicious, throw some of the BBQ shredded veggies from last week on top – insanely delicious.
4 c chopped orange cauliflower (any color will work)
4 c vegetable broth or water
1 lb whole wheat noodles (or GF noodles)
10 – 12 oz reduced fat cheddar cheese
2 tbsp unsweetened almond milk or milk of choice
1 tbsp cornstarch
⅓ c nutritional yeast (see note for substitutions)
Salt and pepper to taste
⅔ c cheese crackers (I used Annie’s http://www.annies.com/products/cheddar-squares)
¼ c french onions
Extra cheese for topping, if desired
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Cut the top off of the head of garlic, drizzle with oil or spritz with nonstick spray, and wrap in foil. Bake for 30 – 45 minutes until garlic is soft. Set aside to cool.
Bring broth to a gentle boil in a large pot. Add cauliflower, cover, and cook until it is falling apart or very soft. Set aside to let cool slightly.
Meanwhile, cook noodles according to package directions.
Using a blender, process the cauliflower and broth until smooth.
Return cauliflower to a sauce pan over medium heat. Squeeze soft garlic into pan – be careful not to handle if it is too hot and avoid any papery pieces. Cut cheese into cubes and add to cauliflower. Whisk frequently to ensure cheese does not settle on the bottom, until cheese is melted.
Mix cornstarch with milk and whisk into cauliflower mixture. Increase heat to near boil and then reduce to a simmer. Stir in nutritional yeast and cook until sauce is thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Stir together sauce and noodles and pour into a large greased casserole dish. Bake for 35 minutes.
Meanwhile, crush cheese crackers and french onions in a food processor. Sprinkle over casserole with extra cheese (if desired). Bake an additional 10 minutes.
To sub out nutritional yeast, use an equal amount of Parmesan cheese and increase cornstarch to 2 tbsp. Do not skip baking the garlic, as raw garlic will be too overpowering. If short on time, use ½ tsp of garlic power for a subtle garlic flavor. Nutritional estimation uses nutritional yeast.