From Too Many Chefs -

November 15, 2007
While the Critic's Away: Cauliflower Gratin


Okay, I haven't been experimenting in the kitchen so much as, well, surviving. That's what you do when you suddenly have two kids under three, no family nearby and a missing dad. The Toddler has had his usual diet of cucumber slices, cheese, pasta, carrots, apples and bananas supplemented by beans on toast and Domino's pizza. And I've gone nearly vegetarian. My usual comfort food when I'm only cooking for myself is a plate of spaghetti which has been drenched in egg and topped with sauteed garlic and mushrooms and grated parmesan. I cook it in the frying pan I used to sautee the garlic and mushrooms and then flash it under the grill for a few mintutes to cook the top. It's very satisfying. I have also made a large vegetable Thai yellow curry, using a commercial (Blue Elephant) curry paste. It was tasty but didn't involve much creative thought on my part; I just threw all the vegetables in my bin into the pan. And then there is the cauliflower, pictured above. I know Barrett and I have posted about cauliflower gratin elsewhere. But this time, I really do feel I got it exactly right. I ate three quarters of a head for dinner at the first sitting and finished the rest the next day at lunch. I'm even thinking of adding it to the Thanksgiving menu and trying to convince the Critic to try it. It was that good.

Not that you can tell from the photo, sigh.

I think the reason many people dislike brassicas like cauliflower is the smell. There's something old-lady-ish and, well, stinky, about it. But the strong flavour goes sublimely with cream and cheese. Add the smokiness of a little country ham and you are set for a delicious, satisfying feast.

Cauliflower Gratin (serves one hungry abandoned mother over two meals - or four as a side dish)

1 large head of cauliflower
1 1/2 cups milk (350 ml)
200 grams of a flavourful cheese, divided (I used Beaufort, but you could substitute a strong flavoured gruyère)
1 heaping teaspoon of mustard
2 heaping tablespoons of flour
60 grams butter, plus a little for buttering the gratin dish
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F. Cut the cauliflower in large florets and boil them for six minutes in salted water. While it is cooking, butter a gratin dish that is large enough to lay out the florets in a single, snug layer. Melt the remaining butter in a small sauce pan. When it starts to froth (but before it browns) add the flour and stir briskly. Slowly add the milk, a few teaspoons at a time initially, and gradually increasing in amount, stirring briskly all the while to avoid lumps. Once you have incorporated all the milk, grate the cheese. Gradually add the cheese until you have mixed in all but a handful. Taste for salt and pepper.

Lay out the cauliflower florets in the gratin dish. Spoon the cheese sauce over the florets. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the florets and place it in the oven for 15-20 minutes. If you are in a hurry, you can switch to "grill" on the oven to brown the top. (Just don't forget about it while you are writing emails, because it won't be as pretty in a photo as you had hoped...)

This method of cooking the caulflower - boiling it and then baking it - ensures that it remains nice and moist and just tenderly done. The sauce is so delicious, you'll be scooting the bits of cauliflower around the bottom of your plate, trying to pick up more. In fact, you might want a nice crusty baguette to wipe your plate if you can find one!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at November 15, 2007 10:26 AM

Mmmm, I make something like this pretty regularly in cold months, with cayenne and oregano and garlic and a splash of sherry, and usually with some sauted mushrooms. The Fella is staunchly anti-cauliflower, so sometimes I make it with his beloved broccoli.

I haven't tried the mustard --- sounds like a warm, subtle addition. Yum!

Posted by Elsa on November 16, 2007 at 10:23 PM

I wonder if disliking cauliflower is a men's thing 'cause my hubby also avoids it as much as he can! I usually make it together with broccoli - mustard is my favourite ally when it comes to give cauliflower a twist.

Posted by Suzana on November 19, 2007 at 12:14 PM

Jeez, that does sound good. I like the mustard part. I'd probably render some pancetta for that. But then you guessed that already, eh?

xo, Biggles

Posted by Dr. Biggles on November 21, 2007 at 3:53 PM

Dr. B, I am ashamed to say that I forgot one essential ingredient when I was writing this up: I also draped some parma-style ham over the cauliflower before I sauced it. It was perfect with the cheese, the mustard, the whole!


Posted by Meg in Paris on November 22, 2007 at 3:05 PM