Adapted from a Mark Bittman recipe in Runner’s World. Make a double batch of this and freeze it in bread pans. After it has had time to mellow in the fridge, the flavors are even better.
1-1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 large cauliflower, cored and cut into 1-inch florets
8 ounces whole-wheat elbow macaroni, or spirals
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar—or maybe a bit more
1-2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
3 or 4 cloves (or more, to your taste) of roasted garlic (optional—see recipe below)
sea salt or kosher salt and black pepper
¼ to ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 to 1-1/2 cups freshly ground whole-grain bread crumbs
1. Heat oven to 375° F. Boil a pot of salted water.
2. Cook cauliflower in boiling water until quite tender—probably 15 to 25 minutes.
3. While the cauliflower cooks, grind your bread slices in your food processor. Combine the crumbs in a small bowl with the Parmesan cheese and set aside.
4. Scoop the cauliflower out of the boiling water and put it in the food processor.
5. Cook pasta in the boiling water until tender. Drain it, then put pasta in a large bowl. Grease a nine-inch square baking dish, or a couple of bread pans.
6. Process cauliflower with stock, mustard, nutmeg, optional roasted garlic, salt and pepper, working in batches if necessary. Taste the puree and make sure there is enough salt and pepper and mustard. It should be quite well-seasoned, since it will be flavoring the pasta, as well.
7. Pour sauce over the pasta, sprinkle the cheese in, stir to combine, and spread evenly in the prepared dish(es).
8. If you’re going to freeze some of it, make it to this point, then cover and freeze. If you’re making the dish from frozen, make sure to give the mac & cheese plenty of time to thaw—it takes a long time.
9. Cover the pan with foil and heat for 30 minutes or so, testing with a knife or an instant read thermometer in the middle of the dish to make sure the casserole is hot all the way in the center. When the dish is piping hot, spike the heat to 450 degrees, cover the noodles with the breadcrumbs and Parmesan, and put the dish back into the oven, uncovered, until the bread crumbs are browned—5 to 10 minutes.
roasted garlic and garlic oil
This is actually how I make my olive oil infused with roasted garlic—and the by-product is the “roasted” garlic—which is actually poached in olive oil, but even sweeter and more tender than roasted. If you’d rather roast your garlic in the oven, wrapped in foil, I’m sure you have a recipe in a book already, but this method is much easier, and yields garlic that is sweet and soft and luscious, plus garlic oil has a wonderful, mellow flavor that is intensely garlicky at the same time.
several heads of garlic, cloves separated and peeled (I just buy a bag of peeled garlic cloves from Costco, but 3 pounds of garlic might be more than you want to handle.)
olive oil (you don’t need extra-virgin olive oil for this—the garlic imparts so much flavor that you can use regular olive oil)
1. Put all the whole peeled garlic cloves in a heavy, lidded pot. Cover the garlic cloves with olive oil.
2. Bring the oil and garlic to a simmer over medium heat. Give the garlic a stir, and then turn the heat down to the absolute lowest possible heat, cover the pot, and simmer just at a bare bubble. Stir the garlic occasionally and continue to cook until the garlic cloves are completely soft and tender, and you can easily squish one against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. This will probably take an hour or more, but check after 45 minutes.
3. Uncover the pot and let cool. Strain the garlic from the oil.
4. The garlic can be used in any recipe that calls for roasted garlic. You can freeze the garlic indefinitely (I keep it in pint-sized canning jars in the freezer), and just take the cloves out as needed.
5. The oil can be used to roast any vegetable—broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, green beans, turnips… you name it! Or just dunk your toast in it. Keep it refrigerated. It’ll solidify in the refrigerator, but just scoop out a spoonful and let it come to room temperature.