Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cauliflower Gratin

Hello!  I hope your Thanksgiving was fabulous, and that your pants are being friendly to you this week.  We had a wonderful day in the kitchen, and I could not be more thankful to my BFF and sister-from-another-mister Nicole for steering the ship.  We were triumphant in the kitchen, even if our guests did eat a bit later than we had planned (did any of you manage to get your Thanksgiving dinner on the table at the time you had planned?  If so, you're my hero). 

As my little household has transitioned to meatlessness (all the time for me, at home for John), we have a lot of conversations about satisfying food. While I could probably munch happily on brown rice and pureed soup for dinner, whether we consider a new dish a success or a failure often depends on that heft, that oomph, that weightiness that makes you feel warm and full on a cold (ok cold for Los Angeles) winter night.  Our Thanksgiving meal was the most satisfying I can remember.  Soft blistery sweet potatoes, a rich and savory stuffing, velvety mashed potatoes, and some zingy little cranberries .  Turkey who?

If Thanksgiving is my Superbowl, then it needs an MVP, and this cauliflower number is it.  If you've never made gratin before, let me offer a ringing endorsement.  Gratins have a base vegetable that cozies up with a rich bechamel or cheese sauce.  The whole thing gets topped with a crumbly savory topping and baked like a casserole.  It's winter perfection.  Potato gratins are very common, but cauliflower, sweet potato, and even parsnips are great variations.

Start by steaming a couple heads of cauliflower...

And whisk up a roux of butter and flour...

Stir in some milk, let it thicken...

Then whisk in some really yummy sharp cheddar.

Let your cheese melt, then season the sauce, and stir together with the cauliflower.

Next just put together an easy crumbly topping.  Breadcrumbs, parsley, olive oil.  Yum!

Then bake!  That's it.  20 minutes later, you'll be indulging away.  Go ahead, it's winter, it's cold out there.

Cauliflower Gratin

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the baking dish
2 small heads cauliflower (about 3 pounds total), cored and cut into small pieces
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
6 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (1 1⁄2 cups)
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
kosher salt and black pepper
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil

Heat oven to 375° F. Butter a shallow 2-quart baking dish. Fill a large pot with 1 inch of water and fit with a steamer basket; bring the water to a boil. Place the cauliflower in the basket, cover, and steam until very tender, 12 to 15 minutes; drain well.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle with the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 6 to 8 minutes.

Whisk in the cheese, nutmeg, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook, whisking, until the cheese is melted, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and gently fold in the cauliflower; transfer to the baking dish.

In a bowl, toss together the bread crumbs, parsley, oil, and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the cauliflower and bake until golden brown and bubbling, 15 to 20 minutes.

The gratin can be prepared (but not baked) up to 1 day in advance; refrigerate covered. Add 5 to 10 minutes to baking time.

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