Meat-free Mac and Cheese

Mac and cheese is a dish synonymous with comfort food in America, so it’s no surprise people are looking for alternative ways to make the cheesy and cheesy classic.

But an extensive exploration of plants for proteins revealed how plant-based cheeses can be just as good as the conventional varieties. So, vegan versus non-vegan? It’s worth a try. And that’s what Jessica Seinfeld, author of the new book All Things Smörgåsbord: Everyday Recipes For a Whole World, is aiming to achieve.

Sleek and elegant, the family-friendly book combines information about plant-based cooking with top recipes for meals that include plants and grains that often wouldn’t necessarily be on your conventional cookbook radar. But, after a few weeks of eating her way through the book, I realise just how well-developed the recipes are – and how tasty they are, too.

We’re are always on the lookout for new vegetarian recipes that will impress our guests. I’m partial to one right now, which is made with a vegan mac and cheese, plus a sharp artisanal balsamic vinegar, carrot cakes and tzatziki sauce. I’m a big fan of the fat-free (but still vegan) balsamic vinegar, but if you prefer a heavier, more artisanal condiment, try Meyer lemon-scented paste instead. It’s good with most cold, bland meat and fish-based food.

Vegan-friendly mac and cheese (serves 4)

2 cauliflower florets, peeled and cut into steaks about 1.5cm in diameter

2 tbsp olive oil

3 large shallots, peeled and roughly chopped

Pinch each sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed

120g herby “mystery” or “scotch” cheese, coarsely grated

90g blue cheese, coarsely grated

6 eggs

80g orzo

75g ricotta

280g panko

80g parmesan, grated

Extra virgin olive oil, for frying

1 Set the oven to 200C/390F/gas mark 6. Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Carefully cut the cauliflower florets into ribbons – I use a little larger ones than the big ones, which are ideal for this recipe – and put them on a tray or a plate in the oven until they’re just cooked, about five minutes.

2 Meanwhile, add the oil to a frying pan over a medium heat. When it starts to smoke, add the shallots and fry, stirring, for five minutes, until soft. Add the salt and pepper, and cook for another five minutes. Add the garlic and cheese, and cook, stirring and breaking up with a wooden spoon, for another four minutes. Turn the heat off, pour in half the balsamic, then set aside.

3 Mix the cauliflower in a large bowl with the egg yolks, then whisk in the blue cheese and cheese, and the herby balsamic mixture. Add a dash of water or coconut oil if the mixture is too thick for a non-stick pan or if the egg whites have curdled.

4 Break the eggs into a separate bowl. Pour half the egg whites into the flour in the mac and cheese, then the remaining into the cauliflower mixture. With your hands, fold them into the cauliflower. Scrape it into a casserole dish and sprinkle with a good sprinkling of panko. Return to the oven for about 35 minutes. The top will have set a little, but it will look much nicer than it did pre-fry.

5 Meanwhile, bake the carrot cakes in the oven for 20 minutes. Take the casserole out of the oven and let it cool for a few minutes before removing it from the tin. Put the baked cakes on to the casserole dish and drizzle with a little olive oil. Cover with the rest of the egg whites.

6 In a large mixing bowl, whisk the orzo, ricotta, panko and half the parmesan for five minutes, to smooth it out. Add a quarter-teaspoon of salt, pour over the baked carrot cakes and pour over the rest of the egg white.

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