I made my own version of what we called ‘Cauli-mac’ some years ago but it wasn’t particularly exciting so we had it just once, twice at the most. Cauliflower cheese and macaroni cheese are both popular here but I was attracted to this version as it was just a bit different. Finding a good recipe to make both at the same time was always going to be a hit and this is proving to be our favourite recipe from the Jamie Oliver 30 minute meals series and book. It is simple comfort food at its best and I have lost count of the number of times I have made this or a variation. Although it is a fairly standard mixture of cauliflower, macaroni and cheese I have changed the ingredient proportions in the original recipe to give a less stodgy version: more cauli and slightly less mac. There are two brilliant ideas that lift this Cauli-mac out of the ordinary. The first is the addition of crème fraîche along with the cheese, saving the need to make a time consuming flour based white sauce: simple but brilliant. (Of course part of the 30 minute meals brief is the need for speed.) The second idea was to add a breadcrumb topping which included bacon and rosemary, both delicious flavourings. There is very little bacon – just enough to add a slight flavour – but if you are vegetarian never fear as I have included some information below, giving my still tasty but meat free version. Adding chopped parsley to the cauli-mac mixture gives a pretty green flecked sauce and I saved some to scatter one top as well. Recently I have been making a new variation of my own, which includes tomatoes. This is still being ‘tested’ by my guinea pig team (aka family) and needs photographing, however it will make an appearance in due course.
As I have already said, this recipe comes from Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals (by Jamie Oliver). This is just one dish, part of a menu he suggests can be cooked within the half hour time limit and which also includes a mixed salad and a dessert. I am afraid I have not cooked the complete menu and probably will not, but I have often served some salad on the side.
Vegetarian Variation: The bacon can, of course, simply be omitted but a similar smoked flavour can be obtained by using grated Applewood Smoked Cheese (or a similar variation – though possibly not the Bavarian Smoked log type cheese). I replaced about half of the mature cheddar. For a stronger flavour replace all the cheddar with smoked cheese. A dusting of smoked paprika before cooking will also add to the smoky flavour and give a little heat as well.
‘Cauli-mac’ – Cauliflower Macaroni Cheese
4-6 rashers of smoked bacon, or a similar quantity of bacon offcuts or leftover smoked ham
1 large head of cauliflower
250g dried macaroni
Olive oil as required
150g mature Cheddar cheese
2/3 thick slices of bread
large sprig of fresh rosemary
1 large clove of garlic
150g crème fraîche (about half a tub)
Parmesan cheese, to serve
2tbsp chopped parsley, to divide between mixture & to garnish
Salt & pepper
1. Fill the kettle with water and bring to the boil. Preheat the oven on to 220ºC/425ºF/Gas 7.
2. Lay the bacon in the dish you will eventually be using for the cauli-mac mixture and put on the top shelf of the oven to pre-cook.
3. Trim off any very coarse or spoiled outer leaves from the cauliflower and remove the tough end of the stalk. Quarter the head or break it up into large pieces. Place in a large saucepan, stalks downwards and add the pasta. Chop or crush the garlic well and add to the pan.
4. Pour over the boiling water to cover the ingredients, season, add a little olive oil and place on a high heat. Stir well, and cook with the lid just askew. I found it was worth stirring the mixture once or twice to help avoid the pasta sticking to the pan.
5. Grate the cheddar cheese in the food processor and tip into a bowl.
6. Remove the bacon from the oven. Using a mini chopper or food processer, chop or process well with the bread and rosemary leaves. Add a good drizzle of olive oil to bind the ingredients into a coarse breadcrumb consistency.
7. When the cauliflower and the macaroni is just cooked (a knife inserted into the cauliflower stalk should slip in easily), reserving the cooking water, drain the cauli-mac through a colander into a large bowl. Tip the cauli-mac into the dish the bacon was cooked in.
8. Add about 300ml (about three quarters of a pint) of the reserved cooking water. Stir in the crème fraîche, grated cheddar and most of the chopped parsley, breaking the cauliflower up with a fork or potato masher until you have bite size, but still recognisable, chunks.
9. Taste the mixture and if required add more salt, plus a little ground pepper. The sauce should be loose and if necessary, add another splash of the reserved cooking water.
10. Spread the mixture out evenly in the dish and scatter over the breadcrumb topping. Cook on the top shelf of the oven for around 8-10 minutes, or until the topping is golden and the mixture bubbling.
11. To serve grate over some Parmesan and scatter the top of the dish with the remaining parsley. Serve with a simple side salad. Crusty bread or garlic bread can be served alongside if required.