Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin

Kind of like mac ‘n’ cheese, but with cauliflower instead of noodles. This would be a good dish to make after entertaining and finding you have a bunch of small bits of cheese. Cheddar and Gruyere are used here for depth of flavor, but other Swiss and Cheddar types would work as well.

INGREDIENTS:

1 head cauliflower, cut down to larger florets
1/4 cup home made breadcrumbs, or panko style bread crumbs
1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
Butter as needed

Sauce:
1 1/2 cups milk
2 bay leaves
1 clove garlic, peeled and split in half
1/3 cup diced ham such as smoked Virginia or Black Forest
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup sharp cheddar, grated
1/4 cup Gruyere, grated
Salt and pepper to taste

METHOD:

Heat the oven to 400°F.

Bring a pot of water large enough to hold the cauliflower to a boil on the stove. Salt it well.

While the water comes to a boil, make the sauce; Heat the milk with the bay leaves, ham, and the garlic over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and remove from heat. Let flavors infuse for 10 minutes  then discard the bay leaf and garlic.

In a sauté pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. When it is done foaming, sprinkle with the flour and whisk in. Cook gently for 2-3 minutes, stirring all the whole, and then slowly add in the milk mixture, whisking constantly. Cook until the sauce has thickened. Stir in the cheddar and Gruyere, whisking it in, and then season with salt and pepper. The cheeses will add salt, so go lightly with the salt and taste as you go. When the sauce is made, remove from the heat and keep warm.

Add the cauliflower to the boiling water and blanch 3-5 minutes, until it is just tender. Drain it really well.

Add the cauliflower into the sauce, mixing it gently to coat well. Spoon the cauliflower into a buttered gratin dish and season with salt and pepper. Pour the rest of the sauce over the cauliflower and scatter the ¼ cup cheddar over the dish along with the bread crumbs. Season with pepper.

Bake in the oven 15-20 minutes until the gratin is bubbling and golden. Serve hot, being careful not to burn yourself with the sauce.

VARIATION:

A fun variation is to add a couple cups of cooked macaroni noodles to the dish. Overcook the macaroni by a minute of two which will cause it to absorb some of the sauce, and add it to the drained cauliflower before saucing. This will add a little chewy note to the dish. Using mozzarella as a cheese will make it gooey and stringy like pizza, which also has appeal.

YIELD: Serves 4

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