My cauliflower obsession is alive and well and it says hey hey hey.
With the amount of cheese I threw into this recipe and the usage of stock cubes, I have no delusions that this is a healthy dish but surely substituting cream with cauliflower makes this sauce more nutritionally dense, no?
I took inspiration from this recipe and mine yielded just enough to feed 5-6 people. To make baked penne with cauliflower sauce, you’ll need:
2 cups dried penne
4 cups chopped cauliflower (I used about 700 g)
Water as needed (just enough to submerge cauliflower while cooking)
2 chicken bouillon cubes
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 T butter
1 T olive oil
2 smoked Italian sausages (250 g), chopped
2 cups shiitake mushrooms, sliced
About 1/2 t dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
About 1/4 cup cheddar plus more to top
About 1/4 cup mozzarella plus more to top
1. Preheat your oven to 204 C/400 F. Cook the penne until a little short of al dente. Drain and toss in butter then set aside.
2. Chop the cauliflower, stalks and all, as uniformly as possible and place into a pot. Fill the pot with enough water to submerge all the cauliflower. Bring to a boil and add a bouillon cube to season (only one here!). Simmer until cauliflower is easily pierced by a fork.
3. When done, set aside to cool a little bit. While waiting, take out a medium pan and heat on medium to prep the other ingredients starting with garlic. Chop and sauté in butter taking care not to burn. When done, set aside.
4. Add a tablespoon of olive oil into the pan and add chopped Italian sausage. By ‘chop’ I mean run your knife along one side of the sausage, tear the casing and take the sausage out so you can break it apart with your hands. It’s very satisfying, give it a try.
I love using Italian sausage this way when a recipe calls for ground beef or pork because it’s just so much tastier. As long as the flavors go together, of course. Cook until browned.
5. Transfer cooked sausage onto a plate with paper towels to drain and set aside. You’ll find that the sausage leaves behind quite a bit of fat in the pan. This is the business. Add sliced mushrooms.
Add dried thyme. I’m a huge fan of the thyme-mushroom love team! Cook until mushroom starts to wilt then season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Set aside on paper towels to drain.
6. The cooked cauliflower should be cool enough to transfer to a blender now. Transfer the cauliflower first and then add stock as needed – I made the mistake of transferring everything all at once to whirl and the resulting sauce was too thin that I had to make a roux to thicken. Which is fine but you can avoid that by adding just enough stock to get everything blending. You can always adjust later on with the remaining stock.
You can also add some milk along with stock. But again, not too thin!
7. Transfer the blended cauliflower mixture into a pot heating on low. Grate in cheddar and mozzarella and stir to melt. To adjust seasoning, I dropped in another bouillon cube here and added freshly ground black pepper. If you’re using bouillon cubes too, you can crumble and add little by little to taste and adjust.
8. Stir in cooked penne, sautéed garlic, Italian sausage, and shiitake mushrooms. Mix well so everything is distributed evenly.
9. Transfer to baking dish (I used an 8×8 and had a little left over that I cooked in a small loaf pan) and top with more cheddar and mozzarella.
Pop into the oven uncovered and bake for about 10 minutes or until the cheese is melty and you get this golden brown beauty.
I wanna do this with macaroni. I shall call it Power Mac.
I’m sure the cheese in the sauce helps but really, it wasn’t even a whole lot of cheese and I think it’s remarkable how blitzed cauliflower mimics a rich creamy sauce. When I made cauliflower pizza crust, I noticed how eating it made me burp cauliflower all day (like burping farts) but that didn’t happen with the sauce thank gawd.
It’s so good. And sneaky. If I had kids, I would trick them into eating cauliflower like this all the time.
On a completely random note, Mark Twain apparently once said, “Cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education.” You are a cauliflower. Are you offended or flattered?
Fun Food Fact: Cauliflower contains vitamin C, folic acid, potassium, and iron. A cupful of cauliflower flowerets contains 27 calories. Winner!