I've been thinking a lot about moderation lately. It's such an appealing concept, to eschew extremes and live in a happy medium where, like Goldilocks, you have just enough (and not too much) of everything.
In reality though, moderation is harder than it sounds, especially when it comes to food. Let's say you want to reduce the amount of sugar you eat and so you decide to have after-dinner treats only in moderation. (Look at you, so in control, yet relaxed and fun!) But then friends come over for dinner one night and of course you're going to serve dessert. But they don't finish it all, so you're left with extra ice cream in your freezer or half a cake on your counter. So you eat dessert every night for a week because, well, you don't want to be wasteful, right? And once that week is up, it's tempting to pick up more ice cream and cake the next time you go shopping, because suddenly it's a habit.
But we also know that completely swearing off dessert isn't the way to go, because as soon as a you make a particular food "bad," you only want it more. What, are you going to arrange your life so you're never in the same room with dessert? Of course not. You just resolve, again, to have less of it.
But for the moments when that's not easy, here's my proposition: Instead of completely giving in to unhealthy treats in excess and then starting the whole cycle over the next week, why not modify your treats so they don't entirely derail your progress, thereby making it easier to stay on track? Take, for example, today's recipe: a traditional mac and cheese that happens to be about 60 percent roasted cauliflower.
This is not some bullshit low-fat sauce, nor do I deign to suggest that cauliflower is a reasonable substitute for pasta. I would never insult you like that. This contains both a decadent, legit cheese sauce and real macaroni—it's just tempered with a hefty dose of roasted cauliflower.
It's not exactly Easy Mac, but it's not much harder. Start with cauliflower cut into smallish florets—about the same size as the pasta. Toss the florets with olive oil and a touch of salt (be careful with the salt in this recipe, as each element gets salted individually and the cheese is salty)taste as you go.
It's a most delicious way to honor your cravings and your resolve at the same time.
1 medium cauliflower, cored and cut into small florets
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
4 ounces elbow macaroni or other small pasta (like penne or rotini)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 1/4 cups milk (preferably whole)
5 ounces medium or sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
chili flakes and chopped parsley, to garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Toss the cauliflower with the olive oil and a pinch each of salt and pepper.
Spread in an even layer on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes until tender and browned in spots. Once the cauliflower has cooked, remove it from the oven, but leave the oven on.
While the cauliflower roasts, cook the macaroni in salted boiling water.
Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.
Make a roux by melting the butter in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat and whisking in the flour.
Let cook, whisking constantly, for about a minute.
Whisk in the milk, stirring continuously, until the sauce begins to thicken.
Whisk in the cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper. Continue whisking until the cheese is completely melted and cook for another 2–3 minutes. The sauce should be very creamy.
Fold the cooked cauliflower and cooked pasta into the cheese sauce.
Stir in the reserved cooking water until completely incorporated.
Scrape the mixture into a baking dish and bake for 20 minutes, until bubbly and browned on top.
Garnish with chili flakes and parsley, if desired, and serve hot.