I must admit to a serious addiction. To cheese. By itself, in cheesy snacks, on crackers, baked - like brie en croute - grated over pasta. The list goes on. Cheese and I are involved in a life long love affair. I never want it to end. SO, of course I had to make the Cheesy Baked Penne with Cauliflower and Creme Fraiche from the October issue of Bon Appetit. I know what you are thinking, cauliflower in my mac and cheese?!? But honestly, it's delcious, and given the overwhelming quantity of dairy in this dish, it helps to lighten it a bit. This recipe is totally vegetarian, but is a little difficult to vegan-ize, given that the dish is based around cheese. That said, I think you could safely substitute a vegan cheddar-like cheese, omit the cream and creme fraiche and have tasty results!
* A note on the cheese - Bon Appetit recommends Comte, or a Gruyere/Fontina blend. I opted for a Comte/Gruyere blend, and was happy with the results. I would, however, decrease the amount of creme fraiche, as the end result was a bit soupier than I would have liked.
Cheesy Baked Penne with Cauliflower and Creme Fraiche
From Bon Appetit, October 2008
1 head of cauliflower, cut into 1 inch florets (I used a delighful orange cauliflower, but standard white cauliflower works as well!)
2 large heirloom tomatoes
5 tbsp of butter, divided
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
Coarse kosher salt
2 tbsp heavy whipping cream
3 cups coarsely grated Comte (or half Gruyere and half Fontina) divided
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 cup creme fraiche
1 tbsp whole grain Dijon mustard
10 ounces penne
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (from crustless French bread ground in food processor)
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large skillet over
medium-high heat. Add cauliflower; saute until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and green onions. Cook 1 minute to blend flavors. Remove from heat. Season with coarse salt and pepper.
Melt 2 more tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan over over medium-low heat. Add flour and stir 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in cream, and cooking - and whisking occassionally - until sauce thickens, about 4 minutes. Add 2 cups of Comte (or the Gruyere blend); whisk until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth. Whisk in 1/2 cup Parmesan, then creme fraiche and mustard. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.
Return reserved pot of water to boil. Add pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite. Drain; return pasta to same pot. Stir in cauliflower mixture and sauce.
Spoon half of pasta mixture into 13x9x2 baking dish (I used an oval Emile Henry baker); sprinkle with 1/2 cup of Comte cheese. Top with remaining pasta mixture and 1/2 cup Comte cheese. Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a small skillet. Add breadcrumbs and toss to coat. Remove from heat; mix in 1/4 cup Parmesan. Sprinkle crumbs over pasta.
Bake in 350 degree oven until heated through and bubbling, about 35 minutes. Enjoy!