Delightfully rich and creamy, my cauliflower mac and cheese sneaks veggies into one of our favorite comfy-cozy meals. Tender, twisty pasta is folded together with a decadent cheddar cheese sauce prepared with two types of cheddar, plus crisp-yet-tender cauliflower florets, crispy bacon, and a buttery panko topping for a hot and bubbly mac and cheese recipe worthy of a second helping!
An Irresistibly Cheesy Combination
Whenever I'm scanning my brain for a cozy recipe to whip up for my hubby and I during the week, images of hot and bubbly macaroni and cheese often come dancing into my head...
Homemade mac and cheese is one of our favorite little indulgences. It makes us feel like we're wrapped up in our favorite blankie with its rich, creamy consistency and crispy, golden-brown breadcrumb topping.
What's not to love about mac and cheese, right?
And while traditional “no frills” macaroni and cheese is fantastic just as it is, it just so happens to be one of those dishes that I've always enjoyed tinkering around with and adding a few “extras” into to make it that much more fun and delicious.
Enter my cauliflower mac and cheese recipe...
This particular recipe is one of our all-time favorite versions of this classic comfort food, brimming with the surprise addition of crisp-yet-tender cauliflower florets, plus smoky bacon, and the wonderfully pungent flavor of my homemade cheese sauce, prepared with both white and yellow sharp cheddar cheese.
I mean, cauliflower + macaroni + cheese + bacon? It's an absolutely scrumptious match made in food heaven!
So if you're a serious mac and cheese lover like we are, this recipe is perfect for when you're craving a hot, bubbly, cheesy and "veggie-full" twist on classic macaroni and cheese, the ultimate in comfort food!
My Cauliflower Mac and Cheese Recipe with Cheddar Cheese Sauce
Preparing this yummy cauliflower mac and cheese is as simple as cooking some pasta, whisking up a homemade cheese sauce, blanching the cauliflower, and prepping the panko topping.
Then, all that's left is to combine everything together in a casserole dish and bake things off until hot and bubbly, and ready to be generously spooned up!
For my pasta, I like to use corkscrew pasta because I love how those nooks and crannies hold all that tasty sauce and extra cheese.
And for convenience, I opt for prepackaged cauliflower florets that I chop into slightly smaller pieces and quickly blanch just until the florets are tender yet still crisp.
Because I love a bit of smoky flavor, I like to add a sprinkle of bacon to the mix, but if you'd like to go the vegetarian route, or simply don't eat bacon, feel free to leave it out.
And since the cheese sauce is what truly makes mac and cheese so deliciously enticing, I make mine extra tasty and savory by adding both yellow and white cheddar cheeses for a rich, creamy texture.
Here's a peek at my cauliflower mac and cheese recipe: (or just jump to the full recipe...)
- To get started, I prep my two-cheddar cheese sauce to have ready, and keep that nice and warm.
- Next, I cook my corkscrew pasta according to package instructions, then drain and keep that warm.
- While the pasta is cooking, I crisp my bacon, and then blanch my cauliflower pieces in salted, boiling water for just several minutes, then drain and set those aside.
- Then, I mix up my panko topping, and set that aside.
- To assemble my cauliflower mac and cheese, I add my cooked pasta directly into the cheese sauce, along with my blanched cauliflower florets, a portion of my crispy bacon, some extra white and yellow cheddar, and then gently fold to combine.
- Next, I spoon the mixture into a prepared casserole dish, top with my panko breadcrumbs, and bake for about 20-25 minutes.
- To finish, I garnish my cauliflower mac and cheese recipe with the remaining crispy bacon, plus green onion, and serve while hot and bubbly.
Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
by Ingrid Beer
This creamy cauliflower mac and cheese is loaded with crisp-tender cauliflower and crispy bacon folded into a rich cheddar cheese sauce!
Yield: Serves 8
Nutrition Info: 1020 calories (per serving)
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 50 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Mac and Cheese Ingredients:
- 12 ounces corkscrew pasta, uncooked
- 12 ounce bag cauliflower florets, chopped into small pieces
- 12 ounces apple-smoked bacon
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
- 1 cup sharp yellow cheddar, grated
- 1 cups sharp white cheddar, grated
- 2 tablespoons chopped green onion, for garnish
Two-Cheddar Cheese Sauce Ingredients:
- 2 ½ ounces unsalted butter (or 5 tablespoons)
- 1 clove garlic, pressed through garlic press
- 2 ½ ounces flour (or about 8 ½ tablespoons)
- 5 cups whole milk
- 1 ½ tablespoons natural chicken base (I use “Better Than Bouillon” reduced sodium chicken base)
- ½ teaspoon granulated onion
- ¼ teaspoon ground mustard
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- Pinch nutmeg
- 2 ½ cups sharp yellow cheddar, grated
- 2 ½ cups sharp white cheddar, grated
- 1 ½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- Pinch salt
- Begin by gathering and prepping all of your cheese sauce ingredients according to the ingredient list above to have ready and organized for use.
- To prepare the cheese sauce, place a medium-size pot over medium-low heat, and add in the butter and garlic. Once the butter is melted, sprinkle in the flour, and stir with a wooden spoon to combine and to cook out the raw flavor of the flour, about 1-2 minutes.
- Next, slowly pour the milk into butter/flour mixture (or “roux”), whisking the whole time to avoid lumps from forming. Then, whisk in the chicken base, and allow the sauce to simmer very gently for 2-3 minutes, to allow it to “tighten up” a bit.
- Turn off the heat, and add in the granulated onion, ground mustard, black pepper, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, plus both the grated cheeses, and whisk to blend the cheeses in completely until they melt. Add in the lemon juice, check the seasoning, and add a pinch of salt, if needed. Keep warm.
- Next, gather and prep all of your cauliflower macaroni and cheese ingredients according to the ingredient list above to have ready and organized for use.
- Preheat the oven to 400°, and lightly butter a large baking dish.
- Cook the pasta according to package instruction, drain, and keep warm.
- While the pasta cooks, blanch the cauliflower pieces by adding them to simmering water for about 3-4 minutes, or until crisp-tender. Drain, and pat dry, then set aside.
- Crisp your bacon in a hot pan, then chop and set aside.
- Prepare your breadcrumb topping by mixing together the panko, the paprika, the black pepper and the melted butter, and set aside.
- To assemble the mac and cheese, add the warm, cooked pasta directly to the warm cheese sauce, along with the cauliflower pieces, about ¾ of the chopped bacon, and 1 cup of yellow and 1 cup of white sharp cheddars. Mix/fold the ingredients together with a large spoon or spatula until everything is well coated in the sauce, and turn out into the buttered baking dish.
- Top the cauliflower mac and cheese with the seasoned panko mixture, and place into the oven, uncovered, to bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown and crisp (you can also broil the topping for a moment or two, if not golden enough from baking).
- Finish by garnishing with the remainder of the chopped bacon, as well as the chopped green onion, and serve hot.
Tips & Tidbits for my Cauliflower Mac and Cheese recipe
- Choose your favorite pasta shape: I'm a big fan of twisty, corkscrew-style pastas for this recipe, but any will work terrifically. Traditional elbow macaroni is great, as are small shells, or any other fun and unique shapes you can find.
- Two types of cheddar for an extra flavorful cheese sauce: Sharp white and yellow cheddar offer some nice savory notes, and a deliciously creamy texture for this classic cheddar cheese sauce. But if you're looking for a more gourmet twist, opt for Gruyere cheese, jack cheese, or smoked gouda, for a slightly unique flavor profile. Just make sure to choose soft, highly meltable cheeses for a smooth and creamy sauce.
- Add chicken for added protein: If you'd like to add a little more protein and “oomph” to your cauliflower mac and cheese, add a small amount of chopped chicken to the mix, about ¾ to 1 cup worth. Rotisserie is great for this, or even leftover, roasted chicken.
- Make this cauliflower mac and cheese recipe ahead: To save time on the day you'd like to bake off and serve this mac and cheese, simply prep the cheese sauce, cook the pasta, and blanch the cauliflower a day or two ahead of time, and keep all of those separate, covered containers in the fridge. Then, gently re-heat the cheese sauce until hot and smooth, combine the ingredients, and bake.
Craving more comfy-cozy recipes similar to this one? Check out this Baked Mac and Cheese, this Cheeseburger Macaroni, this Cauliflower Casserole, this Penne Pasta with Spinach Cream Sauce, or this Beefaroni!
Cook's Note: This recipe was originally published in 2014, and has been updated with even more love!