Signs of Fall and Cauliflower Mac and Cheese

As I take my daily ride into the country, the signs of Fall are everywhere. The corn stalks stand drying in the fields their single ears of seed corn still attached. they’ll stay there for a few more weeks until the process is complete.DIGITAL CAMERAOther stalks face another fate. Gathered and bound to adorn farm stands in every incarnation imaginable, decking their yards for Fall. DIGITAL CAMERAHay bales not being used for feed find their way into the autumn landscape. They can become a climbing structure waiting for children to cast allergies to the wind and scale them with reckless abandon.DIGITAL CAMERA Others are transformed with a few props into (slightly tacky) symbols of the season.DIGITAL CAMERA

DIGITAL CAMERAThe air has that Fall scent. It’s an almost imperceptible hint ofDIGITAL CAMERA dried leaves and crisp air that has just a touch of chill to it. There are a those rogue overachiever trees that are displaying their autumn glory more than a few weeks early, The touches of red and orange a gift of their perfect proximity to the sun.

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This is casserole weather. The temperature is cool enough to turn off the air conditioning and open the windows and using the oven is once again a pleasant proposition. Mama D, always a fan of the one dish meal, has popped more than a few things in the oven of late. Pork loins and chicken breasts have roasted to perfection within the oven walls, but the real treat is when an eclectic group of ingredients come together in one pan of love.

The most recent creation was a healthier twist on Macaroni and Cheese. Pasta was there in the form of Multi-Grain Penne. Extra sharp Cheddar Cheese created a creamy sauce. There was even a little bacon goodness going on. This casserole also featured a healthy dose of cauliflower, red onion, and a handful of golden grape tomatoes.

DIGITAL CAMERACombining these ingredients was easy, if a little time consuming, but completely worth it. I chopped up 3 cups worth of cauliflower (a little more than 1/2 a large head). I cooked the pasta in the usual manner and added the cauliflower to the pot a couple of minutes before the pasta was cooked. They resided together in a rectangular casserole dish. I broiled the tomatoes and cooked the bacon and added them to the dish. DIGITAL CAMERAWhile I drained most of the bacon drippings from the pan, I kept just a little to saute the onions which became the base for my cheese sauce. Cheese sauce needs cheese and I chose an extra sharp cheddar. The grab your taste buds kick allowed me to use less saving some fat and calories.DIGITAL CAMERAI upped the flavor of the sauce with Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, and mustard. Some garden thyme added a little sumpin’ as well.

Every good casserole needs a crunchy crumb topping and so did mine. Panko crumbs with a little garlic powder and paprika was the crowning touch.DIGITAL CAMERAIt baked in the oven mostly covered with foil, but (foil) topless for a bit to create a crunchy golden crust. The result was a tasty yet somewhat healthy dish. DIGITAL CAMERAThe bacon could be eliminated to make it a Meatless Monday delight. Any cut pasta would work from elbows to shells to rotini. Just cut the cauliflower to a size that is similar to the pasta. This will generously serve four and the leftovers are pretty tasty as well.

Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
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Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
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Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Cook pasta "al dente" in a large pot of lightly salted boiling water. When the pasta is almost done, add the cauliflower and cook for 2 minutes or so. Drain and place in a rectangular baking dish that has been lightly coated with non-stick spray.
  2. Slice the tomatoes in half and place on a broiler pan that is lightly coated with cooking spray. Spray the tomatoes lightly with more cooking spray. Broil until the tomatoes begin to break down and are lightly browned. Add to the pasta and cauliflower.
  3. Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook stirring occasionally until the bacon is browned. Remove the bacon from the pan and drain on paper towels before adding to the casserole dish.
  4. Remove all but a scant tablespoon of the bacon drippings from the pan. Add the first tablespoon of butter. When it melts, add the red onion. Cook for several minutes until the onion begins to soften.
  5. Add the flour and stir to coat the onions. Continue to cook and stir for 2-3 minutes. Do not let the mixture brown.
  6. Add 1/2 cup of the milk and stir to create a smooth paste. Slowly add the rest of the milk, stirring constantly to keep things smooth. Conttinue to cook and stir until the mixture is thickened, 5 minutes or so.
  7. Add the mustard, pepper sauce and Worcestershire sauce to the pan and stir to mix. Remove from heat and add the cheese. Stir until the cheese is melted. Pour over the mixture in the baking dish.
  8. Melt the second tablespoon of butter in a small pan. Add the Panko, garlic powder, and paprika to the pan and toss until the crumbs are evenly coated. Sprinkle on top of the casserole.
  9. Cover with foil and bake in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 25 minutes or so (it should be bubbly around the edges). Remove the foil and return to the oven for 10 minutes more. The crumbs should be golden brown.
  10. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes or so before serving.
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Autumn brings changes in the weather and often the foods we eat. This year fall also holds many personal changes for us. Like a change of season…a change of lifestyle can be a welcome challenge.  Embrace it.  Love, Mama D

 

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