This creamy cauliflower mac and cheese with ham, topped with a crispy panko topping, is the ultimate comforting dinner that the whole family will love.
Macaroni, ham, cheese – these three ingredients equal my toddlers ideal meal! Add in some cooked cauliflower and a simple homemade cheese sauce, and then top it off with crispy breadcrumbs, and there are clean plates all around.
Making a baked mac and cheese with cauliflower was inspired by my popular tuna cauliflower pasta bake, mixing the cauliflower into a homemade cheese sauce and combining it with pasta and then baking is a great way of serving cauliflower to the family – especially younger family members!
The panko breadcrumbs gives this baked mac and cheese a crispy topping. You can make your own breadcrumbs from leftover bread if you prefer (see FAQ below).
I love baked mac and cheese, but you can also make this on the stove top if you don’t want to put the oven on, and serve without the breadcrumbs. And want dinner on the table 30 minutes earlier.
If you want a vegetarian pasta bake, then don’t add the ham to this cauliflower macaroni and cheese, or make this sweetcorn macaroni cheese.
Which cheese can I use for baked mac n cheese?
I find cheddar cheese works best, it provides a creamy flavour, melts well, and is reasonably priced.
Why is my cauliflower pasta watery?
You want to cook the cauliflower until just tender. If you overcook it, it will still taste ok in the pasta bake, but the dish may be more watery which will cause the sauce to split. It is still edible though!
What can I use instead of panko breadcrumbs?
Make your own dried breadcrumbs: Place two slices of bread (crusts are great for this!) in the oven at 150˚C/ 300˚F for 10 minutes, or until dried, Cool then whiz in the food processor until you have breadcrumbs the size you want.
Can I make this ahead?
Yes, you can make the pasta bake up to 3 days ahead. Make it up to adding the breadcrumbs, cool completely then cover and put in the fridge for up to 3 days. Add the breadcrumbs at the last minutes just before cooking as they will go soggy otherwise, and you want them to be crispy! Chilled cauliflower mac n cheese may take slightly longer to heat through.
You can also make the sauce ahead, cool it thoroughly and then freeze it. Then defrost, heat over a low heat whisking well as it may separate but a quick whisk with a balloon whisk will bring it together. Then stir in cooked pasta, cauliflower and ham and bake.
Tips for making the white sauce:
- Stir the roux (the butter and flour mixture) and cook for a couple of minutes before adding the milk. This will help cook the flour.
- Add the milk a little at a time and then whisk well before adding some more milk.
Can I use leftover cooked cauliflower in this bake?
Yes you can! It’s a great recipe to use up cooked cauliflower. Stir into the sauce with the cooked pasta and bake.
What to serve with the cauliflower macaroni cheese:
Whilst we often eat this pasta bake on its own, a side of cooked green beans, or carrots is also nice, as is a simple side salad such as this pear and walnut salad, or this pomegranate, parmesan and rocket (arugula) salad
Reheat thoroughly in the oven or microwave – leftovers taste great!
If you don’t have much pasta leftover, then heat for a couple of minutes in a pan, pile on top of toast and top with a little grated cheese then pop under the grill until golden. A carb loaded cheese on toast, which my family love!
Why not try…
You may also like these other family friendly cauliflower recipes:
Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
- 800 g cauliflower (roughly 1 large cauliflower) cut into florets, the stalks finely chopped
- 300 g macaroni
- 40 g butter
- 40 g plain flour
- 700 ml milk
- 2 tbsp fresh thyme finely chopped, optional
- splash Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp Djion Mustard
- 2 spring onions finely sliced
- 150 g cheddar cheese grated
- 150 g ham (3 slices) shredded
- 40 g | ⅔ c panko breadcrumbs
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 50 g parmesan cheese finely grated
- Preheat the oven to 180˚C/ 356˚F
- Cook the macaroni in a large pan of boiling water according to instructions on the packet, less 1 minute.
- Add the cauliflower 8 minutes before macaroni ready.
- Meanwhile make the sauce.
To make the cheese and ham sauce:
- In a medium saucepan melt the butter, then add the flour and mix well. Cook, stirring for a minute before slowly stirring in the milk, a little at a time, and cook over a gentle heat for 5 minutes.
- Add the thyme, mustard, spring onions, ham and then the cheese and season with black pepper.
- Drain the pasta and cauliflower and mix into the sauce.
- Pour into a 20cm x 26cm (7.5" x 10") baking dish.
- Mix the breadcrumbs with the oil and cheese and sprinkle over the pasta.
- Put in oven and bake for 30 minutes, until bubbling and the top is golden brown.