Ina’s Cauliflower Mac & Cheese

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This weekend I had the opportunity to skip the city and head west to the NC Mountains for a quick get away with my close friends. Jamey and Phil’s condo is the perfect retreat – with beautiful views(including a surprise rainbow this weekend!) and a great cooking kitchen. I’ve made many of good meal there and I’m always surprised by how well things turn out despite our wine consumption.

This Saturday I prepared a spread of Cauliflower Mac & Cheese, grilled filet with porcini rub and a marinated avocado, apple and blue cheese salad. It was truly a feast. However, I prepped most of the meal on Friday so that things could be easy in the kitchen that night . Particularly this recipe for Ina’s Cauliflower Mac & Cheese. Atypical for Ina, no heavy cream or butter! But it does have a healthy dose of savory and nutty fontina cheese. It seems only slightly healthier by added cauliflower in addition to pasta.

For the sake of ease, I roasted my cauliflower in the oven at 400 degrees until tender and brown instead of sauteing.

This dish is rich, hearty and the perfect side dish for your next steak supper.

Ina’s Cauliflower Mac & Cheese

  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 pound medium shells, such as Barilla
  • Good olive oil
  • 2 1/2 pounds cauliflower, cut into small florets (1 large head)
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups freshly grated Italian Fontina, lightly packed (10 ounces with rind)
  • 1 cup fresh ricotta
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 6 tablespoons freshly grated Italian Pecorino cheese
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Fill a large pot with water, add 2 tablespoons of salt and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, according to the instructions on the package. Since it will be baked later, don’t overcook it! Drain and pour into a very large bowl.

Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12-inch) sauté pan over medium-high heat, add half of the cauliflower in one layer and sauté for 5 to 6 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the florets are lightly browned and tender. Pour the cauliflower, including the small bits, into the bowl with the pasta. Add 3 more tablespoons of olive oil to the sauté pan, add the remaining cauliflower, cook until browned and tender and add to the bowl.

Add the capers, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper to the bowl and stir carefully. Stir in the Fontina. Transfer half of the mixture to a 10 x 13 x 2–inch rectangular baking dish. Spoon rounded tablespoons of ricotta on the pasta and spoon the remaining pasta mixture on top. Combine the panko, Pecorino, parsley and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small bowl and sprinkle it evenly on top. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until browned and crusty on top. Serve hot.

Assemble the dish, cover and refrigerate overnight. Bake before serving.

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