Cauliflower Mac n Cheese ♥

Cauliflower Mac n Cheese with Ricotta ♥, baked in a no-cook pepper cream sauce with ricotta.
Mac n Cheese for the grownups at the table, studded with bites of buttery cauliflower, held together with a no-cook three-ingredient pepper-cream sauce that starts with ricotta cheese. A "people's choice" for Thanksgiving? Yes, definitely. And also an easy choice for special meals year-round? Yes, for sure. Or just for some random night when mac n cheese is the one-and-only comfort food? YES.

Real Food, Fresh & Seasonal. Thanksgiving Favorite. Budget Friendly. Vegetarian. Lower Carb & Lower Cal.

Thanksgiving & Other Celebrations Call for Mac n Cheese

Last year, Butternut Mac 'n' Cheese persuaded me that mac 'n' cheese occupies a revered place on the Thanksgiving table. Call it the "people's choice". So just for fun, this year I tried another mac 'n' cheese with vegetables added in, this time with pan-roasted cauliflower. Oh my, oh my, oh my. What a way to upgrade mac 'n' cheese without breaking the bank. Here's how.

THE CAULIFLOWER Cook a full pound of bite-size cauliflower florets in a skillet, turning them soft and creamy, almost like the pasta itself.

THE NO-COOK SAUCE Most of the time, mac n cheese calls for a cooked cheese sauce. (An example? Our house mac n cheese is Mac n Chicken, it's just mac 'n' cheese with protein but yes, the sauce is cooked.)

Here, the sauce needs no cooking! It's the simplest thing to stir together, just ricotta, some milk, some thyme and salt and pepper. No more worrying about when and how much flour to add, wondering if the sauce will be too thick or not thick enough.

Better yet? This pepper-cream sauce is wonderful, definitely more an adult taste than a kid's taste. It really contrasts with the nuttiness of the cauliflower and the toothsome bite of the pasta. It's another winner, worthy of a place on any festive table.

So Why Does Mac n Cheese Need Cauliflower, Anyway?

It doesn't, of course. So why even think about adding cauliflower to mac 'n' cheese?

TASTE The cauliflower turns almost nutty in the skillet, it's a welcome contrast from the soft but chewy pasta.
TEXTURE Some times mac 'n' cheese gets heavy, all that pasta, all that cheese. Cauliflower breaks that up, adding a slightly different texture but not one that seems out of place in the way broccoli would, I think.
THRIFT Maybe you just have some cauliflower that needs using up and wondered whether pasta would taste good with cauliflower. It does!
LOWER CARB & LOWER CALORIE For people who watch their carbs and calories, Cauliflower Mac n Cheese isn't low carb or low cal but it's definitely lower carb and lower cal than it would be with more pasta.

Cauliflower Mac n Cheese with Ricotta ♥, baked in a no-cook pepper cream sauce with ricotta.


Hands-on time: 30 minutes
Time to table: 1 hour
Makes about 4 cups to serve 8 at a regular meal or about 16 at a large multi-course dinner like Thanksgiving, easy to double

The pasta-cooking method is unconventional but really works!

8 ounces (225g) dried pasta
Water to cover plus 1 inch
1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound of fresh bite-size cauliflower florets from about 3/4 of a large head of cauliflower

8 ounces (225g) ricotta cheese
3/4 cup (190g) whole milk
1/2 tablespoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper, be generous

Cooked Pasta
Cooked Cauliflower
No-Cook Sauce

1/2 cup (30g) panko
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

Heat the oven to 400F/200C. Lightly spray a 1-quart oven-safe baking dish.

COOK & DRAIN THE PASTA Place the dried pasta, water and salt in a large saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. When the water boils, reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and set the timer for the number of minutes specified on the package, then test for doneness. (Otherwise, just cook the pasta according to the package instructions, be sure to salt the water well.) Drain the pasta well and return to the hot pasta pot.

COOK THE CAULIFLOWER In a large skillet, heat the butter and oil on medium heat. Stir in the cauliflower florets, coating them evenly with fat, then returning to a single layer. Add about some cauliflower, only enough for a single layer, toss well to coat with fat. After about 5 minutes, turn the cauliflower. Add the water, cover the skillet and let finish cooking, turning every few minutes, until the cauliflower is fully cooked and soft, breaking up the larger florets with the tip of a spatula or spoon. Once the cauliflower is cooked, remove the lid and cook off any remaining liquid.

MIX THE NO-COOK SAUCE Stir together all the ingredients. Taste for pepper, it should be quite peppery.

COMBINE! In the pasta pot, stir together the Cooked Pasta, Cooked Cauliflower and No-Cook Sauce. Give it another taste, a bit of pasta, a bit of cauliflower, a bit of sauce. More pepper? Go for it. Transfer to the prepared baking dish.

MIX THE TOPPING In a small bowl, stir together the topping ingredients. Spread across the top of the baking dish.

BAKE Bake for 30 - 45 minutes or until hot and bubbly clear through.

THE DAY BEFORE Cook the pasta, cook the cauliflower, mix the sauce and mix the topping. Just keep them separate and refrigerator.
BEFORE DINNER Let the four elements come to return temperature, allow about 2 hours. Combine them and transfer to a prepared baking dish, then top with the crumb topping. Bake at 400F/200C for 45 - 60 minutes until hot and bubbly clear through.

CAULIFLOWER COOKING METHODS I do consider roasting the cauliflower but there's some risk of the cauliflower turning brown thanks to the oil or drying out, if the cauliflower is roasted without oil. Steaming? Yes but I fear the cauliflower would take on too much water which would make for a watery sauce. So yes, it's a little fussier but sautéeing / braising the cauliflower seems like the right choice.

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from Kitchen Parade, my food column

SEASONAL EATING: Mid November Across the Years

Creamed Turnips Curried Rice “Vegged Up” Chayote Squash East African Pea Soup Gratin of Greens Mashed Potatoes with Vegetarian Apple Cider Gravy Smothered Cabbage Autumn Sunchoke Salad Fresh Candied Yams Twice-Baked Potatoes Leek & Root Vegetable Gratin Sweet Potato Casserole Cauliflower Cream Creamy Brussels Sprouts Gratin Cauliflower Mac n Cheese with Ricotta Thanksgiving Succotash Mashed Butternut Squash & Sweet Potatoes Savory Bread Pudding with Butternut Squash, Chard & Cheddar ( this week's favorite!) Savory Sweet Potato Casserole Slow Cooker Sweet Potatoes with Cranberry & Orange Simple "Sweet Potato" Potato Salad with Hardly Any Mayonnaise Three Secrets for Rich & Creamy Mashed Potatoes Thanksgiving Turkey Vegetable Platter Pumpkin Granola Roasted Green Beans with Rosemary & Walnuts

Here at A Veggie Venture, vegetables are the real stars of the Thanksgiving table. So watch for new Thanksgiving recipes all November long, new additions to the collection of My Very Best Thanksgiving Vegetable Recipes. Whether it's 2006's famous World's Best Green Bean Casserole or 2007's favorite Cauliflower Cream or 2008's Creamy Brussels Sprouts Gratin or a brand-new recipe which catches your fancy, this year move Thanksgiving vegetables to your center stage.

© Copyright Kitchen Parade
2008, 2020

Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.


  1. Oh, how I wish I could get over my dislike of cauliflower -- this looks like a wonderful meatless entree as well as a side dish.

  2. Mmmmhhhh, that looks like proper comfort food.

  3. Love the idea of this one. My dad loves his mac n cheese plain though, if ketchup on top is plain.

  4. I'm still talking and baking that Butternut Mac'n'Cheese so I guess I'd best be trying this one!

  5. Alanna:

    I just wanted to drop you a note to say how wonderful it was to have met you and the other great bloggers at the Quaker event.

    Your site is simply amazing!! I will be adding it to my faves, for sure. So many recipes, so little time, and only one stomach! Ha!

    Keep up the good work!!


  6. I read a lot, and throughout my reading, I keep hearing about having mac and cheese for special dinners like Thanksgiving and Christmas. That just blows my mind, because my Minnesota heritage doesn't acknowledge that at all.

    It sounds like instead of having breads in various forms like we do, other people view mac and cheese in that vein. I have come to the conclusion that it is a regional dish like having Brussels sprouts in casserole form (eastern coast) for the holiday meals. We don't have those either. For other meals, yes, but it isn't one of our mandatory dishes for the holidays. Isn't this just too intriguing???

    Our holidays have stuffing (with or without apples, nuts and our personal favourite- with smoked oysters and onions and celery), corn or corn pudding, green beans in a casserole or alone, squash with all its various additions such as brown sugar or marshmallows (we like it just plain with butter salt and pepper), mashed potatoes, cranberries, relishes, crescent rolls, apple , mince or pumpkin pies.

    A lot of us also have wild rice, either plain with butter,salt and pepper or paired with white rice in a creamed casserole dish.

    Moms all around Minnesota always tried to get veggies in us with a salad, but most of us opted for just the celery sticks, carrot sticks and those most loved veggies, green olives. Black olives were tolerated for color contrast, but they didn't have the addictive saltiness of those lovely, pimientoed greens.

    Of course the appetizer course always included herring, but my husband is Norwegian and can't stand those lovely pickled fish. I can and do. I'm not Norwegian...and of course, I love lutefisk, he doesn't. I 'fight' with his brother for a good chunk at dinner and my father-in-law just chuckles as he eats his portion. My sister-in-law makes it but refuses to eat it. I came upon lutefisk late in life, around fifteen or so years ago, and have loved it ever since. I don't have it every holiday, but as often as I can. I even go to one of our local restaurants to have it...alone. It is a staple for our Scandanavian heritage to have various churches in our town to make and serve lutefisk dinners for the holidays. Haven't gone there as the restaurant in town serves an enormous plate of it to you.

    But making mac and cheese, God's gift to us, our most loving comfort food, a specialty item on a holiday table has me just bamboozled to say the least. But hey, I'm willing to join the bandwagon.

    Thanks for the lovely recipes and a chance to see what the rest of the nation eats for the holidays. It is better than reading specialty cookbooks for me.


  7. As I was reading your recipe, I was wondering "wouldn't it be easier to just *roast* the cauliflower?" LOL What a great idea Alanna! I'll have to try this it sounds so good.

  8. I just found your blog and am wishing that I would have found it sooner! I am always looking for new and exciting ways to prepare veggies and this is exactly what I need!

    This Cauliflower Mac & cheese is going on the menu for next week! I wanted to make it right away tonight since I had the cauliflower, but didn't have the cheese and cream, so I guess it will have to wait.

    You can bet that several of the Thanksgiving recipes will end up on the table this year!!

    Thanks again!

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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe, whether a current recipe or a long-ago favorite. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. ~ Alanna