3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus addition for the pan
1 small cauliflower, cut into florets
1 pound whole wheat elbows or other short tubular shape
1 small shallot, diced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups lowfat milk
1 bay leaf
Freshly grated nutmeg
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
½ cup chopped smoked ham (optional)
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the cauliflower. Boil, uncovered, until the cauliflower is quite tender, about 8 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cauliflower to a large bowl. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain and add to the cauliflower in the bowl.
2. Meanwhile, mash the cauliflower with the slotted spoon, breaking it into small pieces.
3. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the shallot and sauté for 1 minute. Sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Very gradually whisk in the milk, whisking continuously as you pour to keep the sauce smooth. Add the bay leaf, sprinkle in a little grated nutmeg, and bring to a simmer. Simmer the sauce for 5 minutes, whisking frequently.
4. Whisk the cheese and ham into the sauce and stir until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
5. Scrape the sauce over the pasta and cauliflower and toss well. Scrape into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the parmesan over the top.
6. Bake for 20 minutes, then transfer to the broiler; broil, watching closely, until golden-brown on top, about 2 minutes. Serve hot.
Find out more about this recipe on Mom Appetit's blog.