I’m not one of those people looking to corrupt a classic, carby comfort dish. I think it’s important that carbonara be loaded with cured pork and peppery cheese (and never be made with ‘alt’ noodles). Mashed potatoes should have as much fat in there as possible. And pizza… ahh pizza is always better when it’s a little greasy. But, I like to think of myself as a cook-in-progress. One that’s okay making a remix and cooking what sounds good in the moment and flexing with what’s in season.
Carbonara can still be delicious when you add spring peas or chopped arugula, mashed potatoes made with fresh olive oil versus all the dairy is still very very good, and a pile of wild or farmed mushrooms on pizza is as abundantly excellent as is pepperoni.
So, when I first made this mac-n-cheese, I don’t know why I was horrified that I had maybe ruined mac-n-cheese. Sure, there were actually more vegetables than pasta, but it was so good that I realized I didn’t care.
This mac-n-cheese is at once easy, relatively quick because it is not baked (even though I do call for using the oven), and it feels slightly guilt-free without cutting out the rich, creamy cheese that is the fabric of mac-n-cheese.
It starts with a quick garlicky cream base instead of a roux for bechamel or making an eggy mixture some recipes call for. I then stir in cheddar, and a really sharp salty cheese like parmesan. Pecorino can also work. The point is a lot of bang for your buck with the sauce. As I simmer that sauce, it starts to thicken, coating all the noodles. But, my favorite part of this sauce is how saucy it is, how it pools on your plate just begging for a piece of roasted vegetable to be run through it.
Luckily, the roasted cauliflower and Brussels sprouts become veggie vehicles for picking up said sauce. They roast with really vibe-y, aromatic, and punchy spices: ground cumin, crushed dried chile, and mustard powder. The resulting veggies become a topping for the mac-n-cheese, replacing the classic bread crumbs (it works—some of the Brussels sprouts edges become crispy). I look for cauliflower with its leafy greens still attached because when added to the roasting pile, they crisp up, adding to the crispy-topping effect.
Fresh herbs instead of hard “wintery” herbs also literally freshen things up. That means chopped dill, which has this anise flavor that works well with the creamy sauce and roasted vegetables. All of this together is not your classic tmac-n-cheese, but like classic mac’, it’ll probably go with most other dishes on your dinner table, whether it’s Thanksgiving or a Sunday supper with your besties.Print
- Fine sea salt
- 1 1/2- to 2-pound cauliflower, leafy greens saved, small florets cut from stalk, stalk discarded
- 1 pound brussels sprouts, ends trimmed, halved lengthwise
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon crushed chile flakes
- 1 teaspoon ground mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 8 ounces shells, elows, farfalle, fusilli, or orecchiette pasta
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 3 garlic cloves, finely grated
- 12 ounces aged white cheddar, grated
- 3 ounces finely grated parmesan or pecorino cheese, plus more for finishing
- 1/2 cup chopped dill or parsley
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. While the water is heating, add the cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and spices to a large bowl; toss well to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the seasoned vegetables on a parchment-lined sheet pan and roast for 35-45 minutes or until tender, with many crispy, browned edges.
- While the veggies are roasting. Cook pasta until al dente, reserve ½ cup pasta water when done cooking, then drain pasta.
- While pasta and vegetables are cooking, heat the cream in a Dutch oven or other large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic; once it starts to bubble, stir in the cheddar, parmesan, and cooked pasta. Stir until the cheese is melted and then keep cooking, stirring occasionally until the cheese sauce has thickened enough to coat the pasta, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat. Stir in small splashes of pasta water if the sauce gets too thick.
- To serve, stir in ¼ cup of the dill into the pasta and divide among plates. Top with the roasted vegetables. Sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup dill and more grated parmesan, if desired.
Christian Reynoso is a chef, recipe developer, and writer. Originally from Sonoma, he lives in San Francisco.