A comfort food classic with a tasty surprise at the bottom
Question... how do you make a dish that already oozes with creamy cheesy sauce that little more unhealthy? Answer... just add bacon, macaroni and more cheese on top. I've always wondered why combining cauliflower cheese with macaroni cheese isn't done more often and it's sad in a way that "Mac'n'Cheese" has gone all trendy while cauliflower cheese has remained a throwback to bad school lunches and carvery specials. It's like they're sisters and one is now the cool kid, smoking behind the bike sheds and the other is a swot in pig tails and glasses (I realise that I'm showing my age using this analogy). Anyway, this dish is the time those two sisters realised they needed each other and the swot helped the cool kid ace her maths test and the cool kid helped the swot brush out her hair and take off her glasses... ladies and gents, I present to you Cauliflower and Macaroni Cheese Crumble
Serves a generous two with some left over for lunch
Half head cauliflower
Four handfuls of macaroni
1.5 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp Colman's mustard powder
About half pint milk
About 100g Cheddar
Some old croutons or stale bread
About 50g Gruyere (or more Cheddar)
Bacon - two rashers should do
Half a tin of chopped tomatoes
Oven at 200C (standard).
This is a true LarderThenLife classic as so much of it was foraged from the pantry. And it's easy enough to put together too with only a couple of technical bits. To start off with, get the oven on and put your two rashers of bacon in to cook (or do them in a frying pan but you'll need two hot plates on the go in a min anyway, plus oven-cooked bacon is delicious and less smelly). Then cut some florets off your cauliflower head - half of the head should be OK for this amount. Boil the kettle and then pour the water into a saucepan. Add some salt into the water (or the Italians will come and find you). Into this add four handfuls of macaroni. After about 5 mins add the cauliflower florets.
As they cook start to make your basic roux/white sauce with the butter, flour and mustard powder, slowly adding in the milk. You want to keep it a slightly thick white sauce, so you might not need all the milk. This is because I've made cauliflower cheeses in the past that have split and gone watery as the cauliflower itself releases steam etc after it's been boiled. This is why it's not a bad thing to drain the cauliflower and macaroni for a bit before adding it to the sauce (they should be done by now by the way) - and don't worry about the pasta sticking, it'll come good in the sauce.
Anyway, add the Cheddar to the sauce and let it melt into the white sauce before adding the cauliflower and macaroni mix that has been drained since its cooking time was up.
NB - also good to remember not to worry if the cauliflower is quite al dente at this point as it'll get more cooking in the sauce in the oven.
Stir the cauliflower and macaroni into the sauce. At this point check on your bacon rashers in the oven and if they're done, chop them up and add them in. Season with freshly ground black pepper.
In a dish, slop in about half a tin of chopped tomatoes. If you have a large or high-sided dish by all means put the whole can in - treat yourself! But for a dish like this enamel one (right) I'd say half a tin will suffice. "Just plain tinned tomatoes?" I hear you ask. Yes. Honestly they don't need anything done to them as they'll cook in the oven and be a really good tangy foil to the creaminess of the sauce above them. Spoon the cheesy cauliflower and macaroni mixture on top.
Next step is to get the crumble done. I did some real foraging at this point and found some massively out of date soup croutons, which were still fine (though I might not have served them up in soup to friends if you know what I mean). There were enough to pop into the Kenwood mini chopper (thank you Delia for making this little appliance a 'thing'). I then added in some grated Gruyere cheese (I'd had it in stock since making the gratin last week), some garlic powder/granules and some mixed herbs. Blitzy blitzy. Done.
Once the 'crumble' is made, spoon it onto the top of the cauliflower etc and pop it in the oven for about 20-25 minutes until the dish comes out steaming and bubbling and generally looking a-bloody-mazing. My husband used a ruder, but more appreciative, word to describe eating this (I served it with some peas - sophisticats that we are) and it really hit the autumnal spot.
I mean, it's not rocket science - you could go all in cauliflower or all in macaroni. And of course you could miss out the tomato base, but that would be a mistake as it really does add a certain something. I'll admit, the first time I saw my mum adding a tin of chopped tomatoes to a mac'n'cheese dish, urged on by my step-father, I thought they were both mad, and what's more - devoid of taste - but it really does work. And obviously you could replace the crumble with just cheese to make it easier - and if you don't have croutons you could use stale bread (I have a hunch sour dough might work well here) or whatever else you can forage from the pantry (next time I might try oats or panic bread crumbs or both). Fresh rosemary if you have it around might be good instead of mixed herbs. Oh and needless to say, remove the bacon to make it vegetarian.
I mean - who actually came up with the idea of either cauliflower or macaroni cheese? We need a BBC4 programme researching it along with leeks in white sauce and bread and butter pudding. So I'm not suggesting I invented this dish, but the recipe above is all mine and, as mentioned before, got a resounding thumbs up from the husband aka chief recipe tester.