I am a real sucker for any foods that have cheese in it, and I’m pretty sure that is the only way I agreed to eat vegetables as a kid – with cheese and/or butter alongside it! 🙂 This is an ode to that little kid in me that loves to indulge once in a while in that perfect comfort food. For any parents out there – this is a great dish to make for your family and kids (and you’ll love it yourself!).
Yields: 6-8 generous servings
1 large head cauliflower, cut into 1-inch florets (discarding hard stalk)
1 tablespoons Kosher salt
2 cups milk (any % fat you wish to use)
3 tablespoons butter (salted or un-salted, just remember which one you use so you can adjust salt accordingly!)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon dry mustard (if you don’t have this on hand, you can even use a teaspoon of dijon or honey mustard)
1 cup shredded cheese (this can be cheddar only, or a blend of whichever cheeses you enjoy!)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Pinch of cayenne or chipotle pepper
3 Tbs. dried bread crumbs
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt, to taste
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the cauliflower and 2 tablespoons of Kosher salt. Cook until the florets are tender, about 7 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process so they don’t end up being mushy. Alternatively, you can put the cauliflower florets in an ice bath (also known as ‘shocking’ vegetables).
In the meantime, warm the milk over medium heat in a small saucepan until small bubbles begin to form around the edge of the pan. (I hate the clean-up required for my pans after boiling milk on the stove, so you can also do the heating of the milk in a large bowl or mug in the microwave too!). Remove from the heat.
In a large saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and mustard a little at a time, whisking to incorporate. Increase the heat to medium-low and gradually whisk in the hot milk. (At first you may see lumps in your sauce, but stirring constantly will ensure that there are no lumps left in your sauce). Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick and creamy, about 5 minutes. Add the shredded cheese, and add black pepper and cayenne. Cook, stirring frequently, until the cheeses are melted, about 2 minutes.
Taste the sauce and adjust salt to your desired taste. (Note: This should be a little saltier than you like because once you add it into the cauliflower, the salt content will get diluted by the vegetables. The perfect taste for this sauce would be a little too salty!)
Now to finish your dish, butter a shallow 2-quart gratin or baking dish. Arrange the cauliflower in the dish, pour the sauce over it and sprinkle with the bread crumbs. Take the extra-virgin olive oil and drizzle it over the bread crumbs (this gives you a wonderful crust!).
Bake your dish for 30-35 minutes until it is bubbling. Now change the setting on the oven to broil and bake the gratin for 5-7 minutes, watching it carefully, until it has a beautiful brown crust on it (this is my favorite part of the dish – the crunchy, cheesy, gooey crust!).
Cut into squares and serve immediately! Enjoy!
Food Pairing: This can be a pretty heavy dish, so this is wonderful with some fresh vegetables or a lighter meat such as turkey or chicken.