Gourmet Gemelli


Mac 'n Cheese with Mushrooms and Leeks in a Cauliflower Goat Cheese Sauce

I’m not ashamed— I like boxed mac ‘n cheese. Yes, it’s powdered cheese. And yes, I think it’s delicious.

For college students, it’s practically a food group.  Just like instant ramen, it’s quick and cheap but nothing about it screams of sophistication.

So for those of you who scoff at powdered cheese or just want something different, meet my gourmet gemelli. It has plenty of cheesy goodness but there’s something special about this macaroni and cheese.

It’s secretly packed with vegetables!!

It’s perfect for getting kids to eat more veggies.

It’s also perfect for getting adults to eat more veggies.  I’m looking at those of you who shrink away from spinach and disappear at the mention of daikon.

You know who you are 

Homemade Mac 'n Cheese Gourmet-style

Veggie lovers and veggie loathers unite, I think this is a dish you’ll both enjoy.

The cheese sauce gets some added creaminess from cauliflower purée. Sautéed cremini mushrooms add texture to the pasta. And if that wasn’t enough, it’s topped with leeks to add some unexpected sweetness.

I know. Leeks? Sweetness?


This baked macaroni and cheese is topped with leeks caramelized in fig preserves.

When I step away from boxed mac ‘n cheese, I run.

I’ve made it with both cheddar and goat cheese.  Try them both and see which you prefer.

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Mac 'n Cheese with Mushrooms, Leeks, Cauliflower



Recipe Type: Pasta

Cook Time: 70+ minutes

Serves 8 to 10

Need to get your kids to eat more veggies? Need an impressive dinner party dish? Do both with this homemade macaroni and cheese. Gemelli pasta, cremini mushrooms and caramelized leeks in a cauliflower-cheese sauce. This is not your average mac ‘n cheese. Block_Border

Pasta Ingredients

1lb gemelli pasta
6 oz. cremini mushrooms, stems removed, 1/4 inch slices
3 leeks, 1/4 inch slices (a little less than 3 cups loosely packed)
3 tablespoons fig preserves
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried thyme

Cauliflower Purée Ingredients

1/2 head of cauliflower, chopped
1 clove garlic
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/3 teaspoon onion powder
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Sauce Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup fat-free milk
3 cups cheddar cheese
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Topping Ingredients

1 cup cheddar cheese
1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder





  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. Heat 1/2 tablespoon olive oil with a clove of smashed garlic in a 1 1/2 quart saucepan for a minute.
  3. Add cauliflower florets, 1 1/2 cups water, onion powder and paprika.  Cover and cook over medium-high heat for 15 minutes until tender.  Stir occasionally.
  4.  Pour into a large bowl.
  5. Using a stick blender, purée the cauliflower mixture with Dijon mustard.  Set aside.
  6. In a pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil with a clove of minced garlic for 2 minutes.
  7. Add mushrooms, 1/3 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme.  Stir occasionally and cook for 3 to 5 minutes until lightly brown and tender.  Set aside.
  8. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil.  Add a little salt to your pasta water then add the gemelli noodles.  Cook 7 to 9 minutes until al dente.
  9. Drain and set aside.
  10. Wipe down the saucepan used to cook the cauliflower.  Over low heat, melt the butter and add flour to create a roux.
  11. With a whisk, stir in hot milk.  Whisk over medium-low heat for 1 to 2 minutes until thickened.
  12. Add Parmesan and 3 cups cheddar cheese.  Whisk until thoroughly melted.
  13. Reduce to low heat and whisk in nutmeg and pepper.
  14. Add cauliflower purée and stir.
  15. Wipe down the pan used to cook the cremini mushrooms.  Heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat.  Add leeks and cook for 5 to 6 minutes until wilted.
  16. Add fig preserves.  Stirring occasionally, cook for 15 minutes over medium-low heat.
  17. Add the mushrooms into the pasta.  Cover with cheese sauce.
  18. In a small bowl, combine breadcrumbs, basil, garlic powder and thyme.
  19. In a shallow 2 1/2 quart baking dish (mine is a 11 X 9 X 2 inch ceramic oval), add half the mac ‘n cheese.  Sprinkle 1/2 cup cheddar and a quarter of the leeks.  Add the rest of the mac ‘n cheese. Cover with breadcrumb mixture and the remaining cheddar and leeks.
  20. Bake 25 to 30 minutes in the oven.

Pairs Well With

Pork Loin     Sautéed Apples        Garlic Bread      Crispy Kale Chips


* Try it with goat cheese.  Instead of cheddar, substitute 8oz goat cheese and 1/3 cup of part-skim ricotta.

* If you or your kids aren’t mushroom fanatics, cut the cremini mushrooms into smaller pieces so they’ll be less noticeable.

* Make sure to melt the cheese in the roux-milk mixture first and then add the cauliflower.  The sauce isn’t as creamy if you add the cauliflower first.

* Only use the white and light green parts of the leeks.  The darker green parts are known for their toughness.

* Want to make individual portions?  Instead of a large dish, bake in 3 to 4 inch ramekins for 10 minutes.

* To recreate the macaroni photographed above, serve in a large shallow dish for a hearty family-style meal.




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