I know I’ve been remiss lately in publishing recipes. Working part time in retail over the holiday season leaves very little time for much else. I was happy to get the house decorated, all the cookies made and get a holiday dinner on the table in a remarkable organized fashion. Unfortunately my blog had to be the one to suffer, but the new year will get me back to my goal of one recipe per week.
And speaking of the holidays, I made a wonderful holiday side dish that I’d like to share with you. I’m a big fan of gratin’s. I make a zucchini gratin that I simple adore, and this holiday season I decided to grace my table with a cauliflower gratin. It was fabulous.
The premiss behind a gratin is pretty simple. It’s basically a main ingredient(s) and a cheese sauce with a bread crumb topping. This one does not deviate from that basic formula. I did do a couple of things differently when I made this recipe and I’ll share those tips in my lessons learned. So let’s talk cauliflower gratin…
Lesson Learned 1 – Be careful initially not to over-steam the cauliflower. This recipe calls for steam in the cauliflower to make it slightly tender before cooking it in the casserole. It is very important not to overcook the cauliflower at this point. If you do you will wind up with a mushy casserole. I recommend cutting the cauliflower into even medium-sized pieces and steaming them for 6 minutes tops. Don’t put the cauliflower in the steamer and then start the process of boiling the water. Wait until the water is boiling and then put the steamer on top of the boiling water. The cauliflower should give slightly when pierced by a fork. Once you reach that point, drain the cauliflower and set it aside, or if you feel you cooked it a little too long, shock it in ice water to completely stop the cooking process.
Lesson Learned 2 – You can easily make this recipe ahead of time. When I make this, I get everything done up to the point where I pour the cheese sauce over the cauliflower. Then depending on how much time I have before dinner, I just let the casserole either just sit on my counter, or once it has completely cooled I put it in the refrigerator. NOTE: If you make it so far in advance that you have to refrigerate it, you need to take the casserole out of the refrigerator and let it sit for at least 3 hours before putting it into the oven. That way the casserole will be room temperature when you put it in the oven and the cooking time will hold true. If the casserole is cold, you will need to add more cooking time.
Lesson Learned 3 – Homemade bread crumbs are always better. They are so easy to make, especially if you have day old bread sitting around the house. Just cut the bread into cubes and pulse it in a food processor. You can add any herbs you like at this point or just keep them plain. You will find this to be so much more flavorful than using store bought bread crumbs.
I make this recipe with pepper jack cheese to give it a nice kick, but you can use any good melting cheese like gruyere, cheddar or harvati. But I recommend trying it with the pepper jack. It gives the gratin a nice little kick but does not over power the dish.
1 small to medium sized cauliflower head
3 Tbs. flour
5 Tbs. butter, divided
2 cups whole milk
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
1/4 cup mild cheddar cheese
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375. Cut cauliflower into medium bite-sized pieces. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, steam the cauliflower for no longer than six minutes. Drain cauliflower and set aside. If cauliflower feels too soft, drop it into a bowl of ice water to completely stop the cooking.
In a sauce pan over medium heat melt 3 Tbs. of butter. Once the butter is melted add 3 Tbs. of flour to make a roux. Stir the mixture for at least a minute to cook out all of the flour flavor. Add the milk and stir constantly until the mixture thickens. Once the mixture begins to thicken add the nutmeg and blend well. Once the nutmeg is incorporated, add the cheeses and stir to combine. Once combined remove the pan from the heat. Taste the sauce and salt and pepper to taste.
Pour a little bit of the cheese mixture to cover the bottom of a 1 1/2 quart casserole dish. Add the cauliflower and pour the remaining sauce over the cauliflower. NOTE: This is where you can stop and either hold off baking for a while or refrigerate the casserole. (Please refer to lesson learned 2 above).
When ready to bake, sprinkle the bread crumbs over the top of the cauliflower and cheese mixture. Cut the remaining 2 Tbs. of butter into small cubes and dot the top of the bread crumbs with butter.
Bake at 375 for 30 – 40 minutes or until the bread crumbs are browned and the casserole is bubbly. Look at the casserole after 30 minutes. If the bread crumbs are getting too browned, tent the casserole with foil and bake it for the remaining time.