Bacon-Cauliflower Mac and Cheese

Serves 4 plus

Note: Make this for dinner, then heat up the leftovers in the microwave and pop them in a thermos for lunch in the days ahead. Hirsch's son likes the mac and cheese folded into a grilled cheese sandwich, an idea Hirsch says "totally works." The breadcrumbs and broiling are optional steps.

1 pound whole wheat elbow pasta

10 strips bacon, chopped

1/2 medium head cauliflower, cored and cut into small florets

2 cups milk

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1/2 tablespoon each onion powder, dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

2 ounces cream cheese, cut into chunks

1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) grated cheddar

1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) grated Gruyere

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Kosher salt

3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

4 tablespoons butter, melted

1. Heat oven to broil.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain.

3. Meanwhile, in a large, deep, oven-safe saute pan over medium heat, cook bacon for 2 minutes. Add cauliflower; saute until lightly browned, about 12 minutes.

4. Add drained pasta to pan; mix well. Add the milk, garlic powder, onion powder, mustard powder, black pepper and cayenne. Mix well and heat until milk is hot.


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5. Add cream cheese, stirring until melted. Sprinkle in the cheddar, Gruyere and Parmesan, stirring until melted. Season with salt.

6. In a small bowl, toss breadcrumbs with melted butter, then scatter evenly over the pasta. Broil 2 minutes, until lightly browned.

-- J.M. Hirsch, "Beating the Lunchbox Blues" (Rachael Ray Books/Atria, $10.99, 208 pages)