This easy cauliflower mac and cheese uses our favorite Magic Cauliflower Cream and sharp cheddar cheese. Creamy homemade macaroni and cheese with no cream and no milk!
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We're keeping our Magic Cauliflower Cream Train rollin' today with this Cauliflower Mac and Cheese!
This is hands-down my favorite thing to make with our cauliflower cream. I'd even go so far as to say I think I like this version MORE than traditional macaroni and cheese (which, GASP, I know, WHO EVEN AM I, but hear me out, because our Magic Cauliflower Cream takes homemade mac and cheese to a WHOLE. NEW. LEVEL).
While you can definitely taste a hint of cauliflower, this homemade macaroni and cheese is so tasty that you won't even miss the milk or cream.
A quick mac and cheese primer
There are two main styles of macaroni and cheese: The French-leaning version builds a creamy sauce using a basic stovetop béchamel sauce (a flour-and-butter base - called a roux - with lots of milk). Southern mac and cheese is typically baked and sometimes features eggs or evaporated milk in addition to a blend of cheeses and seasonings.
The "right" way to make mac and cheese is different for everyone. Our mac and cheese recipes have plenty of riffs and mix-ins, and they lean towards the French style: excellent right off the stovetop or baked with breadcrumbs or extra cheese on top.
Quick recap: What's Magic Cauliflower Cream?
Magic Cauliflower Cream is a cauliflower and vegetable stock purée that makes an amazing plant-based swap for Béchamel sauce. It’s similar in texture to milk or cream-based sauces thickened with a flour-and-butter roux (aka our traditional macaroni and cheese sauce!)
In this mac and cheese recipe, our cauliflower cream subs in for that heavier, dairy-based sauce. It makes this mac a bit lighter AND cuts way down on the time it takes to make the cheese sauce!
We love prepping a batch of cauliflower cream at the start of the week, so when it's mac-and-cheese-o'clock you can throw this sauce together in just a few minutes. This recipe uses a little less than half of a batch of cauli cream, so you'll have plenty left over for other meals all week long!
About this cauliflower cheese sauce:
Let's talk for a minute about this cauliflower mac and cheese sauce. (Because you neeeeeeeed to know about this cauliflower mac and cheese sauce). It's ultra-creamy and beautifully smooth. And for a cauliflower sauce, it isn't even all that, well, cauliflower-y.
All you need is some Magic Cauliflower Cream, shredded cheese (this sharp cheddar from Kerrygold is my cheesy soul mate), salt and pepper, and a splash of pasta water. That's it! Well, also pasta. But you knew that already.
This recipe comes together SO quickly. The most time-consuming part is making the cauliflower cream (which takes about 40 minutes, though most of that is inactive time).
But if you've prepped your cauli cream ahead of time (<-- biggest meal planning game-changer of my life. Not even kidding) you can have this sauce whipped up in under ten minutes. WAY faster than waiting for a traditional butter + flour roux to thicken a bunch of milk or cream.
How to make this cauliflower mac and cheese your own:
We kept this master recipe nice and simple - just a quick stovetop macaroni and cheese with some sharp white cheddar - but you can doctor it up however you like!
Add different cheeses, your favorite veggies, or some protein to mix it up and make it your own. (Check out Mac and Cheese 101 for some of our favorite combinations!) You can also swap our Magic Cauliflower Cream for the flour + butter + milk sauce in any of our classic mac and cheese or alfredo recipes.
You can also turn this into a baked mac and cheese if you like. Undercook the pasta by 2-3 minutes, top with toasty breadcrumbs, and bake until crispy (we have a full tutorial for baked macaroni with our favorite bread crumbs in Mac and Cheese 101!)
Lighten this macaroni and cheese up even more by swapping half (or all!) of the pasta for roasted cauliflower florets. I love doing half-cauliflower, half pasta and adding some fresh arugula and cherry tomatoes on the side for a quick, healthy lunch! (Or healthy dinner! Or healthy meals in general, really. Yay vegetables!)
PS - This homemade macaroni and cheese is also KID APPROVED, thanks to a few friends who volunteered their kiddos as taste testers (we went 5 for 5 on endorsements!)
Our friendly neighborhood four-year-old - who is self-described as having "tall standards" - informed me that this mac and cheese "is really pretty okay and good!" so if anyone needs me I'll be basking in the glow of that mac and cheese mic drop for a hot minute.
And also eating another bowl of this cauliflower macaroni and cheese.
This creamy mac and cheese recipe uses our magic cauliflower cream for a lighter, quicker cheese sauce!
COOK THE PASTA:
- Cook pasta in very salty water until al dente.
- Reserve ⅓ cup of your pasta water (we’ll use some in the sauce later!)
- Drain pasta and set aside. Return pot to stove.
MAKE THE SAUCE:
- Add cauliflower cream to pot and turn the heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower cream has reached a low simmer and begun to bubble, about 6-8 minutes.
- Add shredded cheese and fresh ground black pepper to cauliflower cream and stir to combine. Continue stirring until cheese has fully melted and you have a smooth, thick sauce.
- Turn off the heat.
- Add cooked pasta to sauce and stir to combine. Sauce should still be relatively thick.
- Add reserved pasta water a splash at a time (about 2 Tablespoons at a time), stirring well between each addition, to lightly thin the sauce and help it coat the pasta. You won’t need all the pasta water! I usually use a little less than ¼ cup.
- Taste the mac and cheese. Add salt if necessary.
- Top mac and cheese with a bit of fresh ground black pepper and serve immediately.
What is Magic Cauliflower Cream? Cauliflower Cream is our favorite lightened-up substitution for a traditional béchamel sauce (a milk or cream sauce thickened with a flour-and-butter roux). Find the full recipe here! (In a nutshell, cook 1 pound of chopped cauliflower with 1 and ½ cups of vegetable stock until cauliflower is ultra-soft, then blend well to make a smooth “cream”).
Shred your own cheese if you can! We always recommend you shred your own cheese for mac and cheese - pre-shredded cheeses are often coated with preservatives that prevent them from melting smoothly. Use a good box grater or the shredding disc on a food processor to quickly and easily shred your own cheese at home.
Substitutions and Additions. This mac and cheese is very forgiving - don’t be afraid to doctor it up! Use a mix of different cheeses - we like ultra-sharp cheddar, gruyere, goat cheese, parmesan, smoked gouda, havarti, and fontina. Add vegetables: broccoli, bell peppers, more cauliflower, corn, peas, spinach, tomatoes, arugula, etc. You can add your favorite protein as well: we love this mac with grilled chicken, andouille or chorizo sausage, bacon or pancetta, ham, or BBQ pulled pork. You can also add seasonings - we like dijon mustard, cayenne pepper or paprika, mustard powder, and fresh or dried herbs. For more ideas, make sure to check out Mac and Cheese 101!
If you would prefer not to use reserved pasta water (to avoid the salt), add an extra ⅓ cup of cauliflower cream to your sauce or use stock or milk in place of the reserved pasta water to thin the sauce out. Just make sure to taste and season the mac and cheese before serving!
Sauce not smooth enough? This can happen for a variety of reasons - if the cauliflower cream wasn’t blended well to begin with, or if the cheese just doesn’t want to melt, you can end up with a less-than-smooth sauce. But not to worry - just zap that sauce for a few seconds with an immersion blender to smooth it out!
To lighten this recipe up even more, you can swap ½ pound of roasted cauliflower florets for half of the pasta, or nix the noodles entirely and use a pound of roasted cauliflower florets instead! This cauliflower cheese sauce is great with roasted cauliflower (it’s also amazing on roasted broccoli!) and swapping veggies for the pasta is an easy healthy option.
Keywords: macaroni, healthy, cauliflower