Autumn Cauliflower Gratin

by Jessica Merrill on November 10, 2008

in Vegetables

Have you noticed the weather suddenly turning brisk? And in the evenings, the darkness descending earlier and earlier? There’s no denying that autumn has arrived — even for those of us who are lazy about packing away our flip flops. Just as quickly as the weather changed so has my appetite. Suddenly, I’m craving foods that give me the same cozy feeling I get when I spend a lazy afternoon snug on the couch reading Jane Austen or Edith Wharton in front of the fire (or in front of the candles burning in my faux fireplace — hey, I can pretend, right?).

Lately, I’ve been thinking of casseroles, stews and roasted vegetables. I guess that’s why I got the urge to make cauliflower gratin. Or maybe the inspiration was the colossal head of cauliflower that caught my eye at the farmer’s market, which after I bought it, felt a like a bowling ball in the bottom of my canvas bag. Let me say, it’s sad that I’ve let so many autumns have passed me by without cauliflower gratin. Luckily, I’ve reformed.

Cauliflower baked in a creamy gruyere sauce, topped with buttery bread crumbs, and sprinkled with a touch of nutmeg is simply delicious. It makes a hearty side dish.   And if you don’t have the fireplace or the lazy afternoon, the first bite will do the same comfort trick.

Cauliflower Gratin (from Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris)

  • 3-pound head of cauliflower, cut into large florets
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, divided
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups hot milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup grated Gruyère cheese, divided
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cook the cauliflower florets in a large pot of boiling salted water for 5 to 6 minutes, until tender but still firm. Drain.
Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Pour the hot milk into the butter-flour mixture and stir until it comes to a boil. Boil, whisking constantly, for 1 minute, or until thickened. Off the heat, add 1 teaspoon of salt, the pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup of the Gruyère, and the Parmesan cheese.
Pour one third of the sauce on the bottom of an 8 x 11 x 2-inch baking dish. Place the drained cauliflower on top and then spread the rest of the sauce evenly on top. Combine the bread crumbs with the remaining 1/4 cup of Gruyère and sprinkle on top. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and drizzle over the gratin. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is browned. Serve hot or at room temperature.
[Note: The above photo was taken of a slightly modified version of this recipe. Maggie did a gratin of cauliflower, leeks and purple potatoes, using all the other same ingredients listed above. The potatoes were sliced thin and par-boiled, giving the dish an additional crunch on top of the bread crumb topping.]

Jessica Merrill

Jessica lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. and writes about food, drinks, travel and lots more. She has written for The New York Times, Travel & Leisure, National Geographic Travel, Budget Travel, Wine & Spirits, Shape, Coastal Living and many others. She grew up in Vermont, and is very much that person who is willing to walk not just a city block, but a mile (or two) in search of authenticity. On top of that, she's lucky to have met Maggie through her husband. They're really tight cousins - so it turns out husbands are good for lots of things!

  • Rikki

    i have made this is such a wonderful dish. i bet the leeks made it een better!The picture is gorgeous!

  • Don

    I loved this dish..

  • Maggie

    Thanks, you two. I love this dish. The picture could have been a lot better, but it’s so hard at night and after a few glasses of delicious wine.

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