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Creamy Baked Cauliflower Gratin

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Can baked cauliflower taste better than mac n’ cheese? Yes.

This is the baked cauliflower gratin recipe your life has been missing. Cheesy, creamy, and a little classy, too. 

baked cauliflower gratin recipe in casserole

This Baked Cauliflower Gratin Recipe

Few things taste as completely satisfying as a creamy baked cauliflower gratin. Cauliflower gratin, made from chunky cauliflower florets smothered in a white sauce enriched with nutty Gruyère and parmesan cheeses, is soft but not mushy, rich but still wholesome. This recipe should be one of your go-to fall and winter side dish recipes.

You will also like: Baked Eggplant Parmesan and Butternut Squash & Sausage Lasagna and Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes

ingredients for baked cauliflower gratin recipe

Why Cauliflower Is a Healthful Starch Substitute

I think of cauliflower as a green vegetable disguised as a starch. Loaded with fiber, antioxidants, and low in carbohydrates, cauliflower manages to align with something closer to pasta or potatoes than other cruciferous vegetables.

People adapt cauliflower to all kinds of dishes that would otherwise be made from starch: see, e.g., cauliflower pizza crust and mashed cauliflower “potatoes.” But my favorite way to eat cauliflower is steamed, smothered in a cheesy white sauce, and baked. The result is one of the most deeply satisfying vegetable dishes for fall and winter.

caulflower gratin in casserole with cheese before baking

The Best Cauliflower Gratin: Recipe Notes

I love developing my own recipes, but also love sharing others’ recipes that I particularly love. Like this. This lovely vegetarian gratin is closely adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe for cauliflower gratin. I’ve added some fresh thyme to flavor the béchamel a bit, and adjusted the directions a bit for ease and clarity, but the general proportions are the same.

How to make your cauliflower au gratin not watery

Cauliflower, like most vegetables, has a high moisture content. As this vegetable cooks, it will naturally give off some moisture.

Here’s how you can avoid watery cauliflower gratin:

  • First, cook the cauliflower separately. Ina recommends boiling, but I prefer to steam it because it will not absorb any excess water. If you boil the cauliflower, be sure to drain it very thoroughly in a colander.
  • The cauliflower will give off a bit of water when baked with the sauce. But do not worry. This should not be a problem. Let the gratin rest, loosely tented in foil, for about five minutes before serving, and it should absorb into the dish.

best cauliflower gratin recipe in casserole with spoon

Did you make this baked cauliflower gratin recipe? How did it go?

baked creamy cauliflower gratin casserole recipe

Creamy Baked Cauliflower Gratin

This cauliflower gratin recipe makes a super-satisfying vegetarian side dish, adapted from Ina Garten.
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time40 minutes
Course: dinner, Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Keywords:: cauliflower, comfort food, gruyere, ina garten, side dish, vegetarian
Servings: 4 people
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Ingredients

  • 3-pound head of cauliflower, cut into large florets
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme, plus more to garnish
  • 12 turns fresh black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup grated Gruyère cheese (Comté is a good substitute)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs

Instructions

  • Steam or boil the cauliflower in salted until firm but tender, about 5 to 6 minutes. If boiling, salt the water and drain very well in a colander.
  • While the cauliflower is cooking, preheat the oven to 375°F and grease an 8 x 11 x 2-inch casserole.
  • Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until the color turns a nice tan brown roux. Add a splash of milk, whisking. The flour-butter mixture will become almost like a paste.
    Add another splash of milk, then another, until you have a thick liquid. Add the rest of the milk, the sprig of thyme, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Boil, whisking constantly, until the mixture has thickened to the consistency of heavy cream, about one minute.
  • Remove the white sauce from the heat. Off the heat, stir in the parmesan and 1/2 cup of grated Gruyère.
  • Spoon a layer of cheese sauce into the bottom of the dish. Add the cauliflower. Pour the remaining cheese sauce over the cauliflower florets. (I like to taste for seasoning here. You may want another sprinkle of salt.) Top with breadcrumbs and the rest of the cheese, and garnish with additional thyme, if desired.
  • Bake in the top third of the oven for about 30 minutes, until the top is browned. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Notes

I love this cauliflower gratin recipe because it allows a healthful winter vegetable to serve as a mac and cheese dupe. You can assemble the gratin up to a day in advance if you'd like, and bake right before serving. 

14 comments

  • 5 stars
    This was fantastic! Unlike many other Cauliflower Au Gratin recipes I thought the cauliflower was complimented by the sauce, rather than a cheese sauce with cauliflower in it. It was a side for Easter dinner and it was perfect.

    • Unpeeled

      Wonderful! I am so glad you liked it. It’s a nice alternative to creamy potatoes.

  • Meta Burton

    5 stars
    OMGOODNESS! Made this yesterday and I Absolutely Love It. Came out perfect. I think I’ve found a new Love. Since I’m the only one in my household that likes cauliflower I had to cut the recipe in half. I’ll definitely be making this again and again and again. Thanks for sharing ?

    • Unpeeled

      Fantastic!!! So glad you liked it. Sorry you’re the only one in your house who likes cauliflower. But on the upside, more for you? 🙂

  • 5 stars
    Made this tonight and it was delicious. I made half the recipe as only two of us. I made it exactly except I did not have Gruyère cheese and substituted Swiss. I also lightly toasted the panko crumbs in a bit of butter before sprinkling over shallow oval casserole dish. It looked every bit as nice as it tasted.Thanks for a new “keeper”.

    • Unpeeled

      That’s fantastic! So glad you enjoyed, Carol. Swiss was a great substitution, and those buttery panko breadcrumbs–yum! Thanks for this great note.

  • Whitney S

    To double recipe, is it as simple as just doubling ingredients? Would cook time be the same?

    • 5 stars
      It was so delicious! Not much time for preparation too. Thanks for the lovely recipe.

    • Unpeeled

      Yes, just double the ingredients. The baking time will increase a little, my guess is by 25% more or less.

  • CJohnson

    5 stars
    This was so good. My kids even liked it Will definitely make again

    • Unpeeled

      So glad you liked it! It’s a favorite of ours.

  • Mary Spitzer

    I am going to make this as a side dish for Thanksgiving. However, you omitted the oven temperature for baking. Luckily you included a link to Ina Garten’s recipe (thank you), so I will use her temp. as my guide. I am also making your brined roast chicken (instead of turkey!). My first time to brine anything.

    I enjoy your website. It is one of several I go to for cooking inspiration.

    • Unpeeled

      Hi, Mary! Thank you so much for the kind words, and for the great catch! I’ve updated the recipe. Good luck with the chicken. This is definitely a “small but special” year, and I think a great roast chicken is a wonderful alternative. Extra points if you’ve already started to brine your bird. Happy Thanksgiving, Mary.

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