A Sexy Cauliflower Gratin Recipe


Cauliflower isn’t really the sexiest vegetable. Never mind that Mark Twain called it cabbage with a college education; cauliflower can be a little bit, well, plain. It’s hard to imagine a way that one could dress it up, not that we haven’t tried by bringing out its natural sweetness in roasting or grilling it. But it’s winter — the end of winter, to be sure, but winter all the same — and we have a few more weeks of serving some of winter’s heartier fare. Make the most of it with this gratin recipe — with its use of winter cauliflower and its creamy, warming sauce. And to top it all off, it’s healthier than its luxurious texture may make it seem at first glance.

I first learned this trick of puréeing cauliflower when trying to get kids to eat it; if you mix it into mashed potatoes, they can hardly tell. The puréed cauliflower lends a certain nuttiness to the béchamel sauce. Together, they make this gratin soft and creamy yet healthy and light. It’s a perfect weeknight dinner for the last few weeks of winter.

Cauliflower Gratin Recipe

(adapted from Tomato Kumato)

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
2 ounces bacon, cut into matchsticks
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon organic Dijon mustard
1 pinch nutmeg
1/4 tsp. black pepper
salt to taste
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Put the cauliflower in a saucepan of cold water. Bring the water to a boil and cook the cauliflower until tender, about 15 minutes once boiling. Drain.

In a saucepan, cook the bacon over medium heat until crispy. Meanwhile, heat the milk in a separate saucepan over low heat. Remove the bacon from the saucepan, leaving behind the bacon grease. Add the butter and flour and cook, whisking, 2-3 minutes. Slowly drizzle in the warmed milk, whisking all the while. Cook until the sauce thickens to a thin béchamel (the texture of cream), 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Either in a blender or using an immersion blender, combine the béchamel and 1/4 of the cooked cauliflower. Purée until creamy and transfer to a bowl. Add the rest of the cauliflower, the reserved bacon, the mustard, the pepper and the nutmeg. Stir to combine, and season to taste with salt.

Pour the cauliflower mixture into a baking dish. Top with parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs, and drizzle the olive oil over the top. Bake, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes, until the top is crispy and the cauliflower is bubbly. Cool 15 minutes before serving.

Image: Horia Varlan

Emily Monaco
Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American writer based in Paris. She is particularly interested in the ways in which the stories of one person, one ingredient, one tradition can illustrate differences and similarities in international food culture. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Paste Magazine, and Serious Eats. Twitter: @emiglia | www.emilymmonaco.com.