July 18, 2011

Cauliflower Mac & Cheese: smarter than the box

When Kraft came out with its plan to add cauliflower to boxed Kraft Dinner (Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, to my non-Canadian readers), it seemed like a good idea, even if I'm not a big supporter of Kraft generally. It's nothing new, in one sense, as clever parents have been pureeing vegetables and hiding them in pasta dishes for a very long time. Plus, cauliflower and cheese go so very well together, and macaroni and cheese go so very well together, so getting all three into the pot together seems fairly sensible.

The Kraft Canada website advises that there is a half-serving of vegetables in each helping (ie. recommended serving size of 50 grams, or 3/4 cup prepared) of "KD Smart." The vegetable content therefore seems pretty minimal, for all of the fuss - Yoni Freedhoff at Weighty Matters does a nutritional comparison of the "smart" version against the original product, with scathing commentary highlighting (amongst other things) the extra sodium, saturated fat, and sugar that it apparently takes to make this product.

To revisit the idea that cauliflower, cheese, and pasta should all get along, you don't need to go with a heavily processed product. You need cauliflower. It's even easy! You simply add (finely) chopped up cauliflower to the noodles in the last few minutes of their cooking time, whatever recipe you are using, and carry on. If you are determined to use a boxed macaroni, you can still add cauliflower yourself, for much lower cost and greater benefit. The absolute minimum benefit is that you can add a lot more cauliflower to each plate without having to increase the amount of cheese sauce you're using (try it - unless you're adding an entire head of cauliflower, there should be enough sauce). You can certainly make sure you're getting more than a mere half-serving of cauliflower.

Yeah, you can see (and, to a degree, taste) the cauliflower. Cauliflower is good! It's even better with cheese! You can have a larger portion of the dish because it has a lot of vegetable mass mixed right in. Because cauliflower's white surface picks up the colour of the cheese, it's a very satisfying plate to look at - even though you know there's cauliflower in there, it looks - to the quick glance, if your pieces are small enough - just like a big ol' plate of cheesy pasta.

I made this using an all-cheddar version of my Skillet Macaroni & Cheese aka "Evapomac" recipe (see recipe here). It made four generous helpings - one each for the two of us at dinner, with roasted asparagus for bonus veggie points, and one each for lunch the following day. I used about four cups of finely chopped cauliflower (half a large head), so it was well over a "serving" of cauliflower in each portion. I didn't add extra cheese or milk or anything to stretch the sauce, and I didn't need to.

This version is not really all that sneaky. You can see the cauliflower, and you can taste it, although the cheese is the dominant flavour. If you really hate cauliflower, this is not going to work for you. You could also use broccoli, but because broccoli is a little bitter, you might want to blanche it separately first, which is more work, albeit not by much. You could also use some leftover roasted cauliflower, which would likely be a little sweeter from the roasting process, and might taste a little less like the brassica vegetable that it is. If you're sensitive to the somewhat bitter aftertaste of the cabbage family, that might be the way to go.

So, thanks for the idea, Kraft. I don't know why it hadn't occurred to me to try adding cauliflower to my mac and cheese before. I'm not going to buy your product, but I'm going to totally run with this idea. I may not add cauliflower every time I make my macaroni and cheese, but I'm definitely adding it to the options.


Vicki Oates said...

Having read the ingredient list in the sauce mix,I think I will keep making my own cheese sauce,but adding cauliflower sounds like a wonderful idea!Have you found a good alternative to wheat pasta?I have tried a few,but they are all rather bland.

Dawna said...

Hi Vicki, thanks for stopping by!

A mutual gluten-free friend of ours loves the Tinkyada Joy macaroni, but I find it gets a little mushy/gummy in this application. It would probably be better in a more traditional "cook the pasta separate" fashion, since you could preserve the texture. Just toss the cauliflower bits into the pasta cooking water about five minutes before you drain it.

Also, I highly recommend using aged cheese for mac and cheese. More oomph!