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  • Mac and Five Cheeses with Cauliflower and a Pumpkin Seed Crust

    Mac and Five Cheeses with Cauliflower and a Pumpkin Seed Crust

    I created this dish for two compelling reasons: The first was to use up the various bits and pieces of great (and expensive) cheeses that are inevitably cluttering up my cheese drawer. The other was to create a kid-friendly but still healthy dish for my son, Luke. We devour this as either a simple lunch dish with a tangy salad of bitter greens like dandelion or arugula, or as a side dish at dinner.

    The cauliflower adds fiber to the dish and the pumpkin seeds contribute great omega-3s and all kinds of micronutrients. The five different cheeses balance each other in flavor and texture. You have to definitely have melty cheese (such as Gruyère) and mild cheese (I like Taleggio), but then you want pops of sharpness and variety (think feta and Cheddar; of course, being from Vermont, I use Vermont cheddar in almost everything I make). You don’t have to go all-out with five different cheeses. You just want a minimum of three different kinds (melty, mild, and sharp), then maybe experiment with different ratios—it’ll always be delicious!

    Servings & Time

    • Servings 16 side-dish or 6 main-dish servings
    • Prep 50 minutes
    • Cook 10 minutes

    Ingredients

    For the Mornay Sauce
    • 3 cups milk
    • ¼ small onion, root end trimmed but left on, peeled
    • 1 small bay leaf
    • 4 or 5 whole cloves
    • 3 tablespoons butter, plus extra for the gratin dish
    • 1 small clove of garlic, finely minced
    • 2½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
    • Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
    • 1 pinch cayenne, to taste
    • 6 ounces extra sharp Vermont cheddar cheese, grated
    • 6 ounces cave-aged Gruyère, grated
    • 4 ounces soft goat cheese (chèvre), crumbled
    • 4 ounces Taleggio cheese, diced
    • 2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
    For the Pasta
    • Sea salt
    • 1 pound elbow macaroni
    For the Cauliflower
    • 1 small head or ½ large head cauliflower
    For the Pumpkin Seed Crust
    • ⅔ cup raw pumpkin seeds, coarsely chopped
    • ¼ cup sesame seeds
    • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
    • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
    • 1 tablespoon ground red chile

    Method

    For the Mornay Sauce

    In a small saucepan, scald the milk. Keep warm over very low heat. Stud the quarter onion with the bay leaf and clove and add to the milk.

    To make the roux, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the garlic and whisk until the garlic is softened. Add the flour and whisk for about 3 minutes, until the butter and flour start to smell a little nutty, but do not let them brown.

    Remove the onion from the milk; discard the onion. Whisking the roux, add some milk in a slow, steady stream to make a smooth paste. Raise the heat to medium low and gradually add the remaining milk, still whisking. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for a few minutes to fully thicken the roux. Season with nutmeg and cayenne. Remove from the heat and with a wooden spoon, stir in the five cheeses by small handfuls until a thick, rich sauce is formed.

    For the Pasta

    While you’re making the roux, bring a large pot of water to a full boil and season with a little sea salt. Add the pasta, stir, and cook until barely tender. (Cook less than al dente, or the pasta will absorb too much of the sauce). Drain and transfer to a large bowl.

    For the Cauliflower

    Cut the cauliflower into small florets and thinly sliced the stems. Place in a vegetable steamer and place the steamer in a medium saucepan with about ½ inch of water. Cover the pan, place over medium-high heat, and bring the water to a boil. Steam until the cauliflower is tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and add to the pasta.

    For the Pumpkin Seed Crust

    Combine the pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, parsley, thyme, and ground chiles in a small bowl.

    For Assembly

    Preheat the oven to 425°F. Butter a 9 1/2 by 11-inch gratin dish.

    Add the Mornay sauce to the pasta and cauliflower and mix well. Spread out in the prepared gratin dish. Sprinkle with the extra Gruyère and the pumpkin seed crust. Bake until browned and bubbling, about 10 minutes. Let the mac and cheese cool for 5 minutes before serving or there will be some burned tongues to soothe!

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