New Year, New Take: Family Friendly Favorite Macaroni and Cheese

January 13,2011
Sweet Pea Chef
Jessica Efird( )

Jessica, aka the Sweet Pea Chef, is a former U.S. Senate staffer/weekend gourmet turned full-time mom/family gourmet. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband and two sons.

I live in a house divided.  R will not touch the traditional yellowish-orange macaroni and cheese, instead preferring white cheddar and shells pasta.  G on the other hand, is a traditionalist and while usually content with macaroni and cheese in any form, clearly prefers the classic rendition.  Because of this rift, I seldom make homemade macaroni and cheese, because whatever version I make generally creates some sort of bemoaning.

And yet, macaroni and cheese is one of the most classic kid-friendly foods.  I’ve tried ways of making it lighter and even have a version that uses pureed butternut squash, but I came up with a new idea to increase the healthfulness:  cauliflower.

Here was my line of thinking:  use pasta shells (to please R), but sneak on some very finely steamed pieces of cauliflower in the mix.  To “distract” R and G from any textural difference from the cauliflower, I added small pieces of steamed broccoli, one of their perennial favorite vegetables.  Counterintuitive, I know—using broccoli to help mask cauliflower?  But it worked! 

Unlike my butternut squash hidden in yellow macaroni which elicited a “this cheese sauce tastes different,” the cauliflower remained completely undetected.  Lastly, I added a wee bit of crumbled turkey bacon on top, to encourage and excite my little Sweet Peas.

I made this dish for our family, as well as my parents, who were visiting over New Year’s Eve weekend.  R  and G both had seconds, and my parents asked for the recipe.  Mom and dad, ask and you shall receive!

Macaroni and Cheese with Broccoli and Bacon

1 pound small shell pasta, preferably whole grain
½ small head cauliflower
2 cups broccoli florets
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups flour
1 ½ cups shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
¼ teaspoon dried mustard powder
4 slices turkey bacon, crumbled

Bring 10 cups of water to a boil in a large stock pot.  Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions.  Using a metal colander placed over the boiling water, steam the cauliflower until very tender.  Likewise, steam the broccoli while the pasta is cooking.  Drain the pasta and set aside.

Place the cauliflower in a bowl and break into very small florets with the back of a fork.

Set the steamed broccoli aside.

In a medium pot, melt the butter and heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the flour and stir well until the mixture is fully incorporated.  Add the milk and stir constantly with a whisk to prevent lumps.  Increase heat and continue to stir until the mixture comes to a simmer. 

Let simmer 1-2 minutes and remove from heat.  Add the cheese, salt, pepper and mustard powder.  Stir until the cheese if fully incorporated.

Add the cauliflower and broccoli, stir well.  Top with a sprinkle of bacon.

Serves 6.

SPC