Can a vegetable taste better than mac n’ cheese? (Yes.)
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.
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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.
Recipe Notes: Baked Cauliflower Gratin
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.
A few final notes:
- First, cook the cauliflower. Ina recommends boiling, but I prefer to steam it because it will not absorb extra water. If you boil the cauliflower, be sure to drain it thoroughly in a colander.
- The cauliflower will give off a bit of water when baked with the sauce. This should not be a problem. Let the gratin rest, loosely tented in foil, for about five minutes before serving.
Did you make this baked cauliflower gratin recipe? How did it go?
Creamy Baked Cauliflower Gratin
- 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
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
- 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.
- Meanwhile, 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. 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 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.