I have this theory that orange is the color of flavor. As it turns out, this mac and cheese is both flavorful and orange, so I think I’m onto something…
In case you don’t already know, cauliflower is incredibly versatile because it has the ability to work harmoniously with a ton of savory dishes, especially when those dishes have a tangy element. You’ll see how buffalo sauce brings forward the flavors of cream and cauliflower in one of the best macaroni and cheese recipes in the galaxy.
When working with cauliflower, the secret is to brown it to coax those subtle flavors out; seasoning in the beginning and cooking all the way through helps tremendously. Another thing about cauliflower, it takes to spicy foods really well.
Now, I know you want spectacularly creamy macaroni and cheese, which is why this recipe is layers of creamy (creamy sauce, cheese, and cauliflower). Plus, I’ve thrown in a little hot sauce for good measure — totally optional for those looking for classical macaroni and cheese.
Pro Tips for the Best Mac and Cheese
For the best mac and cheese flavor and texture, you need to combine quality cheese with a thickened sauce (roux of butter and flour will thicken milk). In this recipe, I like gouda for its creamy texture and nutty flavor and cheddar for its classic tang. A breadcrumb topping is optional but lends a nice crispy texture with a few minutes under the broiler.
Choosing Cheddar: White vs. Yellow, Shredded vs. Block
I like to buy Vermont white cheddar by the block because they don’t add any color to their cheese. Some cheddars have a slightly yellow hue but cheddar that appears very orange is likely dyed with annato. Either way, when choosing cheese, be sure to grate your own as the pre-shredded cheese is coated with a starch that can affect the way cheese melts and how it feels in your mouth.
Tips for Making Gluten Free Macaroni and Cheese
You can make this recipe with gluten free macaroni noodles and use a gluten free flour (such as rice flour) to make your roux. I will caution you though – if you are using a gluten free starch (tapioca or corn starch), a little goes a long way. I would recommend 1 Tablespoon for this recipe. Obviously, you can leave the breadcrumbs off or use your own gluten free breadcrumbs.
Steps for Baking Mac and Cheese from Scratch
For simplicity, let’s review the basic steps involved for baking this mac and cheese:
- brown cauliflower
- cook pasta
- make blonde roux and mix with milk to form sauce base
- add cheese, hot sauce, and pasta
- bake and finish under the broiler
More Pasta Recipes
Fettuccini Alfredo with Shrimp
Chicken Fusilli with Creamy Paprika Sauce
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Buffalo Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
- 1 head cauliflower
- 3 tbsp olive oil extra virgin
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp Kosher salt
- 1 pound elbow macaroni
- 14 oz cheddar cheese
- 8 oz gouda
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter 1 stick
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups whole milk
- 1/2 cup Franks Red Hot Original Sauce
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs optional
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut the cauliflower in half and use a sharp knife to remove the core. Cut into small florets. Spread the cauliflower pieces in a large baking dish. Toss with olive oil, red pepper flakes, and salt. Bake the cauliflower for 20 minutes. Toss around and bake another 15 minutes to brown a bit.
- While the cauliflower does its thing, bring a large pot of water to boil with salt. Shred the cheese. Boil the pasta 1 minute shy of al dente, strain in a colander and set aside.
- In the clean pasta pot, add the butter and flour to make a roux. Stir over medium-low heat for 2 minutes. Add the milk and bring to a simmer over medium heat just until thick, about 4 minutes. Turn off the heat and add 3/4 of the cheese with the hot sauce. Stir and fold in the macaroni.
- Pour the macaroni over the cauliflower and fold a bit to distribute. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs (if using) and remaining cheese. Bake the macaroni for 15 minutes (finish under the broiler for 3 minutes to brown the top).
How to Mac and Cheese Ahead for Easy Party PlanningSince the creamy texture is everybody’s favorite part, you have to prevent some of that moisture from drying out. To accomplish this, prepare the mac and cheese up to the stage where you add it to the baking dish. At this point, refrigerate up to 2 days before the party. Bake until warm all the way through the center just before serving.
Storing Leftover Mac and CheeseCover the baking dish with foil and refrigerate or transfer into sealed containers for up to 4 days.
Gluten Free Mac and CheeseUse rice flour in place of all-purpose flour to make the roux and look for a gluten free macaroni noodle. You can omit the breadcrumbs in this recipe or sprinkle with any gluten free breadcrumb.
Buffalo VariationsThis mac and cheese calls for Franks RedHot Original to create a hot wing flavor, but you can omit the hot sauce entirely or use less or more to taste. If you can’t get Franks RedHot Original, you can use Tabasco, but you should reduce the amount by half (it’s spicier).
Cauliflower Macaroni and CheeseThe cauliflower blends in seamlessly in this macaroni and cheese so it’s very kid friendly. You can sub in broccoli or leave the cauliflower out of this recipe if you wish.
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