Jamie Oliver's Cauliflower Macaroni

I'm just going to say this now because I know it'll come through anyway as I keep talking: Jamie Oliver's recipes are, hands-down, the most frustrating that I follow.  With measurements like "a full wineglass of dry white wine", "a knob of butter", and a "glug of olive oil", don't expect a lot of guidance from him.  He's loosey-goosey, to say the least.

So why do I keep buying his cookbooks?  Well, for a couple reasons: 1) they're styled and designed beautifully and 2) I love his unique combination of flavors.  And the secret third reason is that he is one of the hot men of the cooking world.  With that, I happily bought a copy of his newest book MEALS IN MINUTES.

The book is laid out in a completely different way, and I haven't quite got used to it yet.  Oliver put together menus.  For instance, it's not just a recipe for Cauliflower Macaroni; instead, it's a menu of "Cauliflower Macaroni, Belgian Endive Salad with Insane Dressing, Lovely Stewed Fruit."  Then the instructions assume that you'll be making all three together: a step for the macaroni is followed by one for the fruit, then we're back to the macaroni; the salad follows behind.  For this recipe, I made the macaroni and the salad but I didn't make the fruit; I found it easy to just skip the fruit-related instructions and move forward with the rest.

That said, I had A LOT of other problems.  Oliver calls for "8 slices pancetta".  But it was like an itch I couldn't scratch: "HOW THICK?!?!"  When I buy pancetta at Eataly, they tend to slice it thin.  When I order it from Fresh Direct, they give me a choice of "standard" or "thick".  Which is it, Jamie?!  I went with Fresh Direct's standard slices, which are approximately 1/8" thick.

Another thing that I just didn't get was that, in both the macaroni and salad recipes, Oliver specifies that the garlic should be unpeeled.  But never does he say that the peel should be removed later.  So, with that in mind, he means that we just blend it in?  That we have peels floating around in the macaroni?  I couldn't get on board with that.  Could you?  I made the call and peeled them.  And I want you to have that confidence too: if it sounds "off" in a recipe, make your own decision.

That's one thing that can be said for Oliver's cookbooks: they encourage improvisation.  Or thrust it upon you.

Okay, I'm done ranting.  So let's get on with it.  See below for my adaptation of Jamie's recipes.

Adapted from Jamie Oliver's MEALS IN MINUTES
Serves 8

8 slices pancetta (about 1/8"thick)
1 large head of cauliflower
1 pound dried macaroni (or similar shaped pasta)
9 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese
4 thick slices of country bread
a few springs of fresh rosemary
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 cup crème fraîche
Parmesan cheese, to serve

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Fill a pasta pot with water and boil on high heat.  If you choose to grate the Cheddar cheese using a food processor, put the coarse grater attachment into the machine.

2. Lay the pancetta in a 9 x 13 roasting pan (I used a Pyrex dish).  Put into the oven and bake for about 8 minutes until slightly golden and turning up at the edges.

3. Trim off the tough base of the cauliflower stalk and quarter the head.  Put in the pasta pot with the pasta, on high heat.  The water should be just a few inches over the cauliflower and pasta; drain some water, if needed.  Season water with about a tablespoon of sea salt, drizzle over about a tablespoon of olive oil, then stir and cook following the instructions on the pasta package, with the pot lid askew.

4. Grate the Cheddar in the food processor and tip into a bowl (or you can grate coursely with a hand grater).  Fit the standard blade attachment, then get your pancetta out of the oven and blitz in the processor with the bread, rosemary leaves, and drizzle of olive oil (approx 1 tbsp) until you have a coarse breadcrumb consistency.

5. Reserve 2 cups of the pasta water and then drain the pasta.  Add the macaroni to the same roasting pan you cooked the pancetta in and add about 1 1/2 c. of the reserved pasta water.  Add finely chopped garlic cloves and mix in the crème fraîche and grated Cheddar, gently breaking up the cauliflower with tongs or a potato masher.  Taste for seasoning.  The pasta sauce should be loose and creamy; if not, add another splash of pasta water.

6. Spread the pasta out evenly in the dish and scatter over the breadcrumbs.  Put in the oven for about 8 minutes, or until the crumbs are golden and the pasta is bubbly.

NOTE: See the photo below?  That's all our leftovers.  Jamie says this dish is for 6 servings but, with the salad, I think it's closer to 8 servings.

Adapted from Jamie Oliver's MEALS IN MINUTES
Serves 6

2 heads red endive, or 1 large radicchio
2 large heads Belgian endive
a small bunch of fresh basil (about 12 leaves)
1 clove garlic, peeled
3 anchovies, drained from jar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons natural yogurt (such as Fage)
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil

1. Trim the bases of the endives and thickly slice them; scatter in a salad bowl or over a platter.  Tear 3-4 basil leaves and scatter over the endives.

2. Put the remaining basil leaves into a blender or food processor.  Crush in the garlic clove, then add a pinch of salt and pepper, the anchovies, mustard, yogurt, vinegar, and olive oil.  Add a tablespoon of water and whiz until smooth.

3. Taste the dressing for acidity; add more olive oil if you want to mellow it out a bit.  Pour the dressing into a jug or glass for serving.

A NOTE ON KID-FRIENDLINESS: This macaroni dish is perfect for kids.  I mean, you can't go wrong with crunchy breadcrumbs and nearly a pound of Cheddar cheese.  That said, Bug still managed to eat around all the bits of cauliflower.  Of course.  And I substituted the salad with the tried-and-true apple slices.


Louise said...

I just started reading Julian Barnes' A Pedant in the Kitchen last night, and he certainly shares your frustrations with imprecise measurements! The cauliflower macaroni does sound delicious though.

Beth S. said...

The loosey-goosey measurements don't bother me since I never measure anything anyway. But the creating of menus rather than separate recipes probably would drive me crazy - especially if the instructions for the meal all are combined together rather than separate instructions. I like to pick and choose what I make. Don't tie me down to three dishes to make together. I put this book on hold at the library after I read your previous post. I guess I'll have to wait and see how I feel about it when it comes in.

Patti said...

I have been dreaming about cauliflower mac and cheese lately. Thank you for the recipe! Just in time for me to go grocery shopping tonight after work.

Unknown said...

It totally drives me crazy, Beth. I mean, I see what he was going for - the instructions have this "real time" aspect to them. But it's not instinctive. Good idea to check this out at the library before committing to buying it!

Let me know how it turns out, Patti!

Louise, I don't know that book - I'll check it out!

joanna said...

Another drool-worthy post. Patti and I tagged you for a Liebster Award because, you know, you're super.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Joanna and Patti! You guys have been such long-time supporters - thanks so much!

Anonymous said...

I attempted this dish, after seeing the episode on TV.. Thank you for providing actual measurements. This was not 'creamy' or 'cheesy', not sure what I did wrong.. wonder if anyone else had this problem... the flavor was fine, and I love the cauliflower, but it's not really home-style mac-n-cheese.. PS, the unpeeled garlic Jamie refers to, is because he uses a garlic press and he feels you don't need to peel it when using the press.