Creamy Mac-n-Cheese with Cauliflower and Spinach

cauliflowermac7I have to admit that the inspiration to make this dinner was parentally-conspiratorial. Sorry kid, it’s true. I did that thing where parents hide veggies in stuff you like and you never knew what hit you! Mwa-ha-ha!

I actually pinned this recipe a while ago and never got around to making it. The night I finally tried it out, we needed comfort and a the-kid-will-eat-this-guarantee. We got both – and also, it was really good.

Again, I used the original recipe as a jumping off point, but based my final product on stuff I knew I had at home and could sub in. Worked out great. Here it is:

WHAT YOU NEED:
* olive oil
* a bunch of spinach (I used a whole bag of baby spinach that I had in the fridge)
* 1/2 an onion
* 1/4t sea salt
* 1/2t crushed red pepper
* 1/3C dried macaroni (or another pasta of your choosing)
* 1C water (you can also use vegetable or other stock if you prefer or have it on-hand)
* 1 bag of cauliflower florets, or 1/2 an average sized cauliflower, cut into florets (SMALL florets – note from my learning curve, cut them down)
* 1/2C milk
* 2T flour
* 1/8t nutmeg
* 1t mustard powder
* 1/2-1C sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
* zest of 1 lemon
* 1/3C breadcrumbs
* 1/2t dried Italian seasoning
It’s a lot of ingredients, I know, but prepare them before you start and it ain’t no thang!

WHAT TO DOcauliflowermac1
Preheat your oven to 350F, and prepare an 8-in casserole dish with some non-stick spray.

Dice the onion and saute it in a little bit of olive oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. While that’s going on, rough chop the crap* out of the spinach, and then add it to the onion and let it wilt. *I say “chop the crap” out of the spinach because I have learned that the more I chop it up, the less likely Eagle Eye Toddler is to notice it. I swear she thinks scrambling eggs is what makes them green. But I digress.

Stir in the salt and crushed red pepper, then cauliflowermac2turn off the heat and ignore this pan for a bit.

Cook the macaroni in water in a medium-to-large sized saucepan. When you do this, you will realize how little pasta actually goes into this dish. I was startled.

About 5 minutes after adding the pasta to boiling water, throw in the cauliflower and stir it up. I reiterate: cut the cauliflower down into SMALL florets. Cover the pot and simmer over med heat for about 5 more minutes, then add the milk, reduce the heat to low, and let that simmer until the pasta and cauliflower are tender (this is the magic part that turns the cauliflower into the rest of your “pasta” – evil parents, let me hear you! HUZZAH!).

cauliflowermac3Turn the heat back on the pan with the spinach/onion, and mix it around a bit to reheat it, then add the flour and stir. Add the macaroni/cauliflower pot into into this pan and stir until it comes together and thickens up. If it seems too thick to you, you can add a little bit of milk to thin it out. Add the nutmeg and mustard and mix through.

cauliflowermac4Add in your shredded cheese and lemon zest and stir it up. The aromatics coming off this pan at this point are pretty impressive. Not that anyone needs to force your cauliflowermac5hand here, but taste it to ensure seasonings are balanced, and then pour the whole thing into the casserole dish you prepared at the beginning.

In a small bowl, mix your breadcrumbs together with the dried Italian seasoning and a tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle this delightful formula over the top of your casserole and then bake, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes (the original recipe says 30 minutes, but 15-20 minutes was perfect – your oven may dictate more or less time, but start here and check it before just going through for a full half-hour).

Serve hot right out of the oven. I made a small side salad of arugula, yellow cherry tomatoes (man, I love those), and sliced Persian cucumbers tossed with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Except for the arugula and tomatoes, she even ate the salad (HA.)! We loved it, and the kid has no clue she ate vegetables. I call that a major parenting and weeknight dinner win.

cauliflowermac6Now go enjoy your weekend and take photos of your food. See you next week.

Here‘s the link to the original recipe again, and to where I pinned it on my board “Yummmmm: Pastas + Casseroles + Comfort Foods.”

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