August 25, 2005
Cauliflower Gratin

What, is it November already? Ok, I know it's August, but there are some times when you want a nice hearty dish for dinner that might more rightly be served at Thanksgiving.

I had a hankering (that's right, I said "hankering") for a cauliflower gratin. I'm not a huge fan of raw caulifower as seen on crudite trays, but I love the stuff when it's been softened up and covered in cheese.

The recipe is pretty much my own. I got the concepts from a number of online recipes (pre-cook the veg, make a roux, add milk, add cheese on top and bake), but the specifics were improvised.

The classic cheese for this dish (at least in Middle America in the 1970's) would be Velveeta or cheddar. I used a taleggio that works much better as a complement to the flavor of the cauliflower. Cheddar or (shudder) Velveeta would merely cover the flavor of the caulifower, which I find very pleasant unless its been overcooked. That said, the taleggio made the dish quite a bit less economical than it would have been, but greatly improved the flavor.

My wife thinks this dish needs to be herbed up a bit. I won't disagree, but I liked it the way it was. Adding marjoram or tarragon to the dish wouldn't hurt it. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Cauliflower Gratin
1 head cauliflower
1 1/2 cups milk
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons AP flour
1/2 cup shredded or ground Parmesan
6-8 oz. taleggio cheese cut into 1/8" slices
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
salt, pepper, optional green herbs to taste

Lightly butter a casserole dish or baking dish with a lid. Preheat your oven to 350 F. Put a big pot of salted water on to boil.

Cut the core out of your cauliflower and discard the green portions. Cut the head into florets and cut the core of the cauliflower into 2" pieces. When your water is boiling, add the florets to it and boil for 8 minutes until the cauliflower is just starting to get tender. Don't overboil the cauliflower because it will spoil the aroma and flavor.

In a saucepan, melt the butter. Use a wooden spoon to stir in the flour and stir well until the butter absorbs the raw flour. Add the milk and stir for at least five minutes as the sauce thickens. Add the nutmeg and Parmesan and stir until the cheese is absorbed into the sauce. Salt and pepper to taste. Add herbs now if you like.

Take a spoon and very lightly spread just enough sauce onto the bottom of the casserole to cover it. Add the cauliflower and pour the rest of the sauce over the vegetable. Lay the slices of taleggio on top of the mix.

Place the dish in the oven and bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Remove the lid, raise the temperature to 475 and bake for 3-5 more minutes until the top is just starting to take on color.

Remove the dish from the oven and let sit for seven to ten minutes before serving. The sauce will thicken up nicely in that time. Be careful, even after sitting seven minutes, the cauliflower and sauce will be hot.

Serve with something green or as a side.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at August 25, 2005 7:27 AM | TrackBack Print-friendly version

Good but how about less oil with same feeling??

Posted by Haluk Direskeneli on August 25, 2005 at 10:17 PM

There's only butter in this Haluk, no oil, and you could back it down to 2 tablespoons, but it won't give you the same consistency.

Of course, I encourage you to try it and report the results!

Posted by barrett on August 25, 2005 at 11:18 PM

I’m fond of giving crudties it’s accent aigu (crudités).

Posted by Ben on August 26, 2005 at 7:39 AM

Well, I'm sure Meg would have added the aigu, but I'm American and many years ago we had a tea party in Boston where we threw tea and diacritical marks into the harbor to protest the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Or something like that, I think.

Posted by barrett on August 26, 2005 at 10:37 AM

That's some fine shootin' there. I've only recently started eating cauliflower, I have a tough time with veggies. Lately been roasting the little florets, but yours sounds delightful.
What would you think about rendering a little smoky bacon or some pancetta to the mix? Or would that be a bit much?


Posted by Dr. Biggles on August 26, 2005 at 4:55 PM

Dr. B -

For me, the pseudo vegetarian, it'd be too much. But for a carnivore, you might very well render a little pork fat and replace some of the butter in the recipe with the fat, then crumble the bacon or pancetta itself into the cauliflower.

I think that woudl work very well. Cauliflower likes that sort of flavor, I think.

Posted by barrett on August 26, 2005 at 5:00 PM

Holy cow, just had a vision.

Use the rendered bacon as a condiment when served. This would leave the creamy goodness of the gratin, while delivering a spriteful punch of smoky goodness to the dish when eating. Make sure the bits are small enough and not crunchy, don't want to do battle in the mouth with a gratin & pork.

Oh my.

Posted by Dr. Biggles on August 26, 2005 at 5:05 PM

Barrett, what is the purpose of pre-cooking the cauliflower?

And the ascii code for an e with an acute accent is alt-130!

Posted by Meg in Paris (in London) on August 28, 2005 at 1:49 PM

Meg - I precooked the cauliflower becasue it doesn't really soften up enough in the gratin if you don't. I use big florets, so if you break it down into smaller bundles or chop the cauliflower up more, you may not need to cook it ahead of time.

Posted by barrett on August 28, 2005 at 2:29 PM

I think this sounds fab and I can't wait to try it. I'm liking the idea of taleggio. Did you take the rind off?

BTW in Windows you can install the French keyboard and simply switch back and forth with a shortcut. With a little hunt and peck you can find the é where the 2 is, and the ç where the 9 is and the è where the 7 is, etc. Then you can actually spell crudités correctly! ;-)

I also have the Spanish keyboard installed so I can correctly spell piña colada!

Good eatin', Alyce

Posted by Alyce on August 30, 2005 at 2:37 PM

Alyce, this is off the food-topic, but I have to say that I personally prefer the English-International keyboard. Rather than try to remember where my a and q letters are located (different on French keyboards) with the International layout if you hit an apostrophe (for example) it doesn't register until you either hit a letter that doesn't take an accent or - if it's a vowel - puts an acute accent on the letter. This only works for PCs, though. I had to memorize a whole new method for the Mac! Oh the traumas of international living...!

Posted by Meg in Paris on August 30, 2005 at 4:55 PM

I love this stuff! My mother-in-law is from Alsace and she got me hooked on cauliflower gratin. I make it all the time in the winter. Hers is practically the same as yours, except we use Gruyere cheese... and for the white sauce, we put in about 1 1/2 teaspoons of dry white wine. I think it really helps marry the flavors of the cauliflower and the cheese.

Posted by Hannah on August 31, 2006 at 9:07 AM
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