Sunday, April 15, 2012

Creamy Cauliflower and Spinach Mac

Since I last posted, I have tried over 25 recipes.  And not posted a single one.  The main reason this happened is because I hate you.

Aw, not really.  I don't have answers here.  What I do know is:  Mark Bittman's cookbook "The Food Matters" has changed my life.  I purchased the book without any idea of what kind of cookbook it was and didn't even have any recommendations from anyone to buy this book.  Let me start by saying...if you believe in eating whole foods, whole grains, mostly vegetarian, but without weird rules like: "No carbs", "No fat", "No sugar", "No meat", buy this book immediately.  Why I like Bittman's book:

1.  His recipes are the type that I only have to read once and I know how to make the dish.  I don't have to keep going back to the recipe and reading details about timing and proportions.

2.  He believes that bacon (sausage, prosciutto, pancetta, etc.) don't really count as meat.  He never says this.  But that is what I think, they are just flavor blasters.

3.  He loves beans.  We love beans.

4.  We agree on the topic of sugar.  If you want something sweet, eat real sugar.  Whether it is honey, maple syrup, refined cane sugar, agave or even the sugar in fruit.  They all got calories.  They all are quite tasty.  But don't eat too much of it.  Or eat it too often.  And don't ever for a second believe that consuming something sweet can be free.  Sweetness comes from only one thing...sugar.  Don't believe any other nonsense. can also come from my dog, sugar plums, and unicorns.

5.  The recipes clearly have much inspiration from a variety of cultures including Mediterranean, Indian, Latin, Asian, etc., but also often just some classic American meals and ingredients.

Which is why, out of the 15 some recipes I have made from his book, I chose this one to share first.  Mac and cheese is a favorite dish of many.  I didn't grow up eating it.  And it is one of the many American dishes that makes me raging angry (go ahead, roll your eyes, sooooorrrrrrry).  So now that I got all my negativity out, I have to say that I would eat this cauliflower mac over regular mac and cheese any day.  The pureed cauliflower paired with the dijon is what does it for me.  I added a cup of sharp cheddar, but honestly, it would be delicious without cheese.  I also added an entire large bag of spinach because this actually makes a ton of sauce.  This would also be a great stove top mac because the sauce is so creamy.  And it is creamy, btw, without the addition of milk, cream or butter.

Another thing that has changed my life is that we found out our dog is half Catahoula Leopard Dog and a quarter mastiff.  According to a mail in saliva DNA test.  His personality is quite unique (yes, I know, I am biased).  That is him glaring at us outside our tent in Southern Vermont.  If you have never seen a dog give a dirty look...well, now you have!

When we were camping last summer in San Juans, this guy pulled this same badattitude.  He was cold, had been hiking all day and was tired, and it started to rain a little, so he insisted on being allowed to take a nap inside the tent.  Probably snuggling up in our sleeping bags and nesting.  Not having to lay in the dirt, you know, normal dog needs.  Well, we let him in, zipped up the tent, and went back to camp fire to finish dinner and clean up.  Five minutes later, guess who comes frolicking over to the camp fire.  He's like, "Wait where did you guys go?  You left me in the tent.  I woke up...and you were gone.  So I jumped out the top, ripped the mesh a little.  Hope that's ok."

Actually, no, that is not ok.  Because we had to sleep in that tent that night.  And it snowed.

He literally jumped through the top mesh of the tent.  He didn't tear through the side.  Or scratch open the zipper.  He just jumped up, over and through the top of the tent.  Amazingly, very little damage was done.  As if he needed to get out, but didn't want to completely demolish his sleeping quarters for the night.

Which is why on this camping trip in Vermont, little puppy dog doesn't get the luxury of napping in the tent after a long hike with his pack on.  Which is why he sat outside the tent and glared at us for a good hour.  And that is the personality you get when you cross a Catahoula with a mastiff.

Creamy Cauliflower and Spinach Mac
adapted from The Food Matters by Mark Bittman

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing the baking dish


2 1⁄2 cups vegetable or chicken stock or water
2 bay leaves
1 cauliflower, cored and separated into large pieces
16 ounces elbow, shell, ziti, or other cut pasta, preferably whole wheat
1 cup grated cheese (like sharp cheddar, Gruyère, or Emmental or a combination)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, or to taste
1 ⁄8 teaspoon nutmeg, or to taste
Black pepper
1 bag/box of baby spinach
1 ⁄4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 ⁄2 cup or more of whole wheat bread crumbs, optional

Heat the oven to 400°F. Grease a 9-inch square baking dish with a little oil. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Put the stock with the bay leaves in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. When small bubbles appear along the sides, about 5 minutes later, turn off the heat and let stand.

Cook the cauliflower in the boiling water until very tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Scoop the cauliflower out of the water with a slotted spoon and transfer it to a the pot with the vegetable stock in it. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until still somewhat chalky inside and not yet edible, about 5 minutes.

Remove the bay leaves from the stock. Carefully process the cauliflower and the stock, the 2 tablespoons oil, the cheese, mustard, nutmeg, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper, using an immersion blender (or potato masher, or transfer to blender/food processor).  If the sauce seems too thick, add more stock. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Combine the sauce, spinach and pasta, toss, and spread the mixture evenly in the dish. (You can make the dish to this point, cover, and refrigerate for up to a day; return to room temperature before proceeding.)

Sprinkle the top with the Parmesan and bread crumbs if you’re using them. Bake until the pasta is bubbling and the crumbs turn brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve hot.

(Servings:  8, Prep time:  1 hr., Cook time:  20 min., Difficulty:  Easy)  

Printable Version

foodforscot Ratings:

Shanon (taste):  8/10
Scot (taste):  8/10
Effort:  3/5
Dishwashing Effort:  3/5


  1. Oh Shanon, you are so funny! I'm making this ASAP. Not to stress you out or anything, but I literally have gone without eating since you havnen't posted a recipe on here for so long, and I simply din't know what to make ;)

  2. Hi Shanon, Do you also have Bitmann's "How to Cook Everything"? Which is better? I'm trying to decide which one to buy... See you in Colorado soon!

    1. I only have the "How to Cook Everything" app. I find it less inspirational and more of a reference, like the Joy of Cooking. But definitely more inspirational than Joy of Cooking...

      The Food Matters has more good ideas in my opinion. But I do not actually have the How to Cook Everything book, so who am I to judge. Actually, I will probably add it to my collection within the next year. Yes, see you soon!