When you're in the mood for ooey-gooey cheesy, but would like it a little healthy too, hello Instant Pot Cauliflower Mac and Cheese! Creamy to the max with a solid serving of vegetables, that's a dinner to get excited about!
My kids are accustomed to me trying to work veggies into just about everything they eat these days. You'd think they would just roll with it at this point, but still, they act like I'm out to poison them.
“There's a black spot in my mashed potatoes! Ugh, mom! Why!”
“That's pepper darling.”
“Oh, sorry, I thought it was mushrooms.”
“I see a tiny green spot in my smoothie! Why did you have to put spinach in it?!”
“Does it taste any different?”
“Well . . . no . . .”
“Well then, you should know I also threw in some cauliflower and zucchini.”
Anyone else ever feel like motherhood is the most intense “battle of wills” you've ever tried to win at?
Well, one thing my kids can always agree on is that this Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce is an acceptable substitute for restaurant alfredo. It's creamy and smooth and hugs fettuccine like a dream.
However, I always found it a little annoying that I had to cook the sauce in the pressure cooker while cooking the noodles on the stovetop. I wanted to find a way to combine it all in one pot.
Welp, I figured it out! This one-pot mac and cheese is ooey-er and gooey-er than ever and it's loaded with a big ol' serving of cauliflower. The kids approve, the hubs approves, and I simply couldn't stop eating it right out of the pot.
THIS IS A GOODIE!
WHY YOU WILL LOVE INSTANT POT CAULIFLOWER MAC AND CHEESE
- ONE POT PLAN: No need to pull out an extra pot to boil the pasta. Sauce, vegetables, and pasta all cook up at the same time.
- HEALTHY: Yes, I consider cheese in moderation “healthy” and this sauce uses less butter and cheese than most without skipping a beat on the creamy factor. Use whole wheat or brown rice pasta to make it whole grain!
- MAC AND CHEESE FLAVORTOWN: I have no patience for bland mac. I use a nice sharp white cheddar and gruyere cheese to make sure every bite sings.
- ZERO FOAMING: With a steamer basket of cauliflower on top of the mac and cheese, there will be zero (or at least very minimal) starchy water coming from the valve upon releasing the pressure (if this has happened to you, you know why this is exciting).
- FANCY MAC: Keep it simple or make it fancy. My kids like it with zero frills, but my husband and I like to load it up with sundried tomatoes, a drizzle of balsamic glaze, roasted veggies, or grilled steak or chicken.
HOW TO MAKE CAULIFLOWER MAC AND CHEESE IN THE PRESSURE COOKER
- Add pasta, liquids, and spices to the pot
- Top pasta with a steamer basket full of cauliflower and pressure cook
- Dump cauliflower in a blender with cheese
- Blend until smooth
- Pour the sauce back into the pasta
- Stir until smooth
SEE RECIPE CARD BELOW FOR DETAILED COOKING INSTRUCTIONS
TIPS FOR SUCCESS
- TYPE OF PASTA: I'm typically all about whole wheat pasta, but even I'll admit the wheat taste overpowered the sauce too much here. Go with regular shell or penne pasta or if you want to keep it whole grain, my favorite is this Brown Rice Pasta.
- USE THE STEAMER BASKET: I've tried cooking the cauliflower with the pasta and just serving it without the puree step, but the pasta just ends up chunky and strange. I highly suggest cooking the cauliflower in the basket above the pasta so it can be pureed into a white, silky sauce. If you don't own a steamer basket, you can steam cauliflower in the microwave or on the stovetop and puree it with a few scoops of liquid from the pot after the pasta is done cooking.
- USE FLAVORFUL CHEESE: A sharp cheese will reward you with lots of flavor without the need to use a ton of cheese. I like an extra sharp white cheddar and gruyere, but really you can use anything you like. My kids actually love it with less flavorful mozzarella and Monterey jack.
- WHIPPED CREAM CHEESE: I prefer to use “whipped” cream cheese in sauces because it melts down and combines beautifully. It's very easy to find next to the regular bars of cream cheese.
- TOPPINGS: This pasta is a perfect blank canvas for all types of toppings, my favorite being sun-dried tomatoes and balsamic vinegar. Bacon crumbles, roasted vegetables, or any kind of grilled meat are also DELICIOUS!
- BALSAMIC GLAZE: Not to be mistaken with balsamic vinegar, balsamic glaze is thick and drizzle-able. If you can find it, I HIGHLY suggest it! It should be easy to find, next to the regular balsamic vinegar at most grocery stores.
- WHITE PEPPER: I used white pepper in this recipe to preserve the pretty white color of the sauce, but by all means, if you don't want to buy a special ingredient, black pepper is fine!
- DON'T SIMMER TO THICKEN: The sauce might seem a little loose at first, but it will thicken up nicely as it sits. I don't suggest simmering it to thicken because the pasta will be overcooked and within a few short minutes, the sauce will be too stiff. A splash of milk will bring it back to creamy if this happens to you.
HOW TO STORE, REHEAT, AND FREEZE
- Store: Cool leftovers and store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
- Reheat: Pasta will be a bit dry the next day. Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop with a splash of milk to bring it back to a creamier state. Another option is to reheat in the air fryer until it's hot and crispy on top – YUM!
- Freeze: Pasta tends to go mushy when frozen. The flavor will still be wonderful, but the texture will be a little off.
MAKE AHEAD TIPS
A day or two before, grate the cheese and chop up the cauliflower to make this meal come together very quickly on a busy weeknight.
WHAT TO SERVE WITH MAC AND CHEESE
- Roasted Vegetables
- Fruit or spinach salad
- Grilled chicken or steak
- Cubes of Ham
- BROCCOLI MAC AND CHEESE: Swap the cauliflower for broccoli for a mean green version.
- MAKE IT SPICY: Add a few shakes of hot sauce or a pinch of cayenne pepper to give it a little heat.
- VEGETARIAN MAC AND CHEESE: Simply swap the chicken broth for vegetable broth.
- GLUTEN-FREE MAC AND CHEESE: Use brown rice pasta in place of wheat pasta.
Are you willing to shake up your plain ol' mac and cheese bowl? Trust me when I say that adding a load of veggies to your mac will be the greatest thing you ever did to your big bowl of carbs.
Tell me, do you also like your mac and cheese loaded with toppings? What are your favorites?
And on that note, will someone please develop a restaurant chain that's all about a pasta bar with endless toppings. That would be a dream come true.
Enjoy your cauli mac!
MORE INSTANT POT PASTA RECIPES
- Instant Pot Chicken Cordon Bleu Pasta
- Instant Pot Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta with Chicken and Pesto
- Classic Italian Pasta Salad
- Instant Pot Black Pepper Noodles
MORE INSTANT POT CAULIFLOWER RECIPES
- Instant Pot Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Chimichurri Sauce
- Instant Pot Creamy Cauliflower Soup
- Instant Pot Healthy Zuppa Toscana Soup
- Instant Pot Creamy Vegetable Medley
TOOLS/INGREDIENTS USED TO MAKE INSTANT POT CAULIFLOWER MAC AND CHEESE
Instant Pot Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
Ultra creamy Instant Pot Mac and Cheese with a cheesy cauliflower sauce.
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 2 minutes
- Total Time: 20 minutes
- Yield: 6 servings 1x
- Category: Entree
- Method: Pressure Cooker
- Cuisine: American
- 1 pound medium shells or penne pasta
- 4 cups low sodium chicken broth
- ½ cup water
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon white or black pepper
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice (about ½ lemon)
- 4 cups chopped cauliflower
- 4 ounces whipped cream cheese
- 2 cups shredded white cheese (I like 1 cup gruyere and 1 cup sharp white cheddar)
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
Optional extras: Stir in 2 cups chopped spinach or top with chopped sun-dried tomatoes (the kind packed in oil), balsamic glaze, bacon crumbles, grilled chicken or steak, etc
- Add pasta, chicken broth, water, butter, kosher salt, garlic powder, onion powder, nutmeg, pepper, and lemon juice to the pressure cooker pot; stir.
- Place a steamer basket on top of the pasta and add cauliflower to the basket.
- Secure the lid and turn pressure release knob to a sealed position. Cook at high pressure for 2 minutes (see note regarding cook time).
- When pressure cooking is complete, use a quick release. If liquid sprays from the valve, close valve, wait 30-60 seconds and try again.
- Remove steamer basket of cauliflower and dump it into a blender. Add cream cheese, shredded white cheese of choice, and cornstarch and blend until very smooth. If it’s having a hard time blending, add a small splash of milk.
- Pour back into the pot with the pasta and stir to coat. It might be a little runny, but will thicken as it sits. If adding chopped spinach, stir in now.
- Serve pasta hot, as is, or make it fancy with a sprinkle of sun-dried tomatoes and a drizzle of balsamic glaze.
- Cook time may vary depending on what type of pasta you use. I use medium shell pasta that has a stovetop cook time of 8 minutes. To find the cook time for this recipe, I divide the cook time by half then subtract 2 -3 minutes.
- Brown rice pasta is a great whole grain option (try it with penne pasta). Whole wheat pasta is a little overpowering for the sauce.
- The pasta will thicken as it sits. I don’t suggest sauteing it to thicken.
- If you do not have a steamer basket, you could instead steam the cauliflower in the microwave or on the stovetop while the pasta cooks.
- Balsamic glaze is not the same as balsamic vinegar. The glaze is thick and syrupy and can be found near the vinegar.
- I like to use white pepper instead of black pepper to preserve the pretty cream color. However, tastewise, both will work.
Keywords: Instant Pot Pasta, Cauliflower Mac and Cheese, Instant Pot Mac and Cheese