When I was growing up, macaroni and cheese was a very special treat. The only time the boxed version made an appearance at our table was on the rare occasion when my parents went out in the evening and left us with a baby sitter. The sitter was given strict instructions to serve it with carrot sticks and glasses of milk, which dampened the joy of dayglow pasta just a little.
It wasn’t until I went away to college that I discovered two things about macaroni and cheese: It is dead simple to make from scratch, and if you stir in some kind of vegetable in with the pasta, you can call it a complete meal.
Once I was living off-campus and had a real kitchen at my disposal, I had my way with the world of mac and cheese. My roommates and I made cheesy shells with cheese, stirred ribbons of zucchini in with leftover spaghetti noodles, and we even did a batch of smoked salmon and cream cheese mac and cheese once for a brunch potluck. They were all tasty dishes that left me with a healthy respect for the power of cooked pasta and a quick batch of cheese sauce.
My most-recent cheesy discovery comes by way of Rachael Ray and her recipe for Cauliflower Mac ‘n’ Cheese. The addition of steamed cauliflower ups the healthful factor without interfering with the trademark flavor. It’s got a few fussy steps, so it might not be weeknight fare. Happily, that means it’s just perfect for The Weekender.
Before you start cooking, read these tips:
— Cauliflower is in season this time of year, so for the freshest head, swing by your local farmers market.
— Because this recipe is from Rachael’s Week in a Day series, she gives instructions on how to chill and store the mac and cheese once you’ve finished prepping it. If you want to eat it right away, however, just pop it into the oven to brown as soon as it’s in the casserole dish. Just know that if you do that, the cooking time will be shorter.
— If your family wants a little extra oomph in this dish, try stirring in a handful of diced ham or crisped and crumbled bacon prior to baking.
Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook, Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round, is now available.