Continuing on a theme of meatless dinners, I made this cauliflower mac ‘n cheese last night. The buttered breadcrumbs were the perfect topper.

Adapted from a recipe by Sheela Prakash

Serves 6-8

For the cauliflower cheese sauce:

2 cloves garlic, crushed

3 sprigs fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

1 small head cauliflower or 1/2 large head, cut into florets

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated pepper

For the macaroni and cheese:

8 ounces macaroni or other pasta

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (can use panko or gluten-free)

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1-2 T chopped parsley

Optional vegetable adders: (I added these and it enhances the dish)

1 onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

4-8 ounces mushrooms, sliced

1 small or half large red or green pepper, chopped

2-3 T Olive oil

optional:  1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes

Cooking spray

Arrange a rack in the top third of the oven and heat to 400°F. Spray a baking dish with cooking spray.

Make the cauliflower cheese sauce: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, thyme, and bay leaves and boil for 5 minutes to infuse water.

Add the cauliflower and cook until very fork tender, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cauliflower and the garlic to the food processor or medium bowl, leaving the herbs behind in the pot (do not drain the pot).

Place the cauliflower in a blender or food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Scoop out 3/4- 1 cup of the cooking liquid and add it to the blender along olive oil. Blend until very smooth, adding more hot water to get the desired consistency; transfer to a large bowl.

Add 1 cup of the shredded cheddar cheese, mustard, salt, and pepper into the purée and whisk to combine. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as needed; set aside.

Sauté the vegetables (if using):  At the same time as pasta is boiling, saute onion and peppers in about 2 tablespoons olive oil for about three minutes; add garlic and stir for about one minute;  add mushrooms and toss for several minutes until brown. Add red pepper flakes, if using. Turn off heat.

For the macaroni and cheese: Bring the pot of infused water back to a boil. Add the pasta and cook per package instructions until just al dente. Meanwhile, combine the melted butter and breadcrumbs in a small bowl; mix well and set aside.

Drain the pasta, discard the herbs, and add the pasta to the bowl of cauliflower sauce. Stir gently until the pasta is entirely coated. Add in sautéed vegetables, if using. Mix well.

Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish and spread into an even layer. Add the grated parmesan on top followed by the rest of the grated cheddar cheese. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the cheese. Cover casserole dish or top with aluminum foil.

Transfer the dish to the oven and bake until the sauce is bubbling and the top is golden-brown, 25-30 minutes. Remove the lid and brown for 10-15 minutes. Let sit for a minute before serving and top with chopped parsley.

I had so much cauliflower that I saved some of the puree for the next time I make this dish.