My brown-butter pumpkin mac and cheese is probably my most-searched recipe. I invented it five years ago, while looking for a way to lighten up some mac and cheese (read: eat mac and cheese more often), and so I added some canned pureed pumpkin to a cheese sauce. The resulting mac was creamy and cheesy, but the addition of pumpkin meant I needed significantly less cheese to make enough sauce to coat my pasta. It also added some much-appreciated fiber, along with its rich, nutty flavor, which gorgeously complemented the cheese.
Recently, I read a recipe for a lightened-up mac and cheese, where half of the pasta had been replaced by cauliflower. I was intrigued. I'm not eating a ton of pasta these days, so I figured I'd give it a go using 100 percent cauliflower. And why not try it with my trusty brown butter-pumpkin cheese sauce?
The result was astonishing. I'm not going to lie to you and tell you it tasted like mac and cheese, mostly because this dish is delicious and worth making in its own right, mac and cheesiness aside. That said, if you're hankering for mac and cheese but, like me, you're keeping an eye on your carb intake, this baked casserole will conquer that craving.
1 medium head cauliflower, cut into small florets $2
½ medium onion, sliced $0.50 for a whole onion
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil pantry
2 tablespoons unsalted butter $1 for a stick
½ (15-ounce) can pureed pumpkin $1.50
1 cup plus a few big pinches shredded sharp cheddar cheese (about ½ an 8-ounce block) $3.50 for 8 ounces
1 cup milk (preferably whole) $1.50 for a pint
Pinch nutmeg $1.50 for 1 ounce
Black pepper pantry
Estimated total cost of ingredients: $11.50
Heat the oven to 425 F.
Spread the cauliflower and onion on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and toss well to coat.
Roast the cauliflower and onions for 20-22 minutes, or until lightly browned and tender.
While the cauliflower and onions roast, melt the butter in a large oven-proof pot (a Dutch oven works well) over medium-high heat.
Cook the butter just until it turns brown and gives off a slightly nutty smell.
Add the pumpkin, cheese, and milk and whisk well until a creamy sauce forms (it may separate a bit, this is fine).
Season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper to taste.
Remove the roasted cauliflower and onion from the oven and leave the oven on.
Add the cauliflower and onion to the sauce right in the pot.
Stir well to coat.
Top the cauliflower-cheese mixture with the reserved pinches of cheddar.
Bake for 25-27 minutes, until bubbly and browned on top.
Top with chopped parsley, if desired, and serve immediately.
Recipe serves 6.