I'm not really that picky when it comes to vegetables. I'll try most anything once, and there are only a few things I don't like, with green peppers sitting near the top of that list. That said, there are definitely some veggies I gravitate toward more than others. Cauliflower? Well, I think this is only the second time I've had it in my 31 years so that gives you an indication where it ranks. I guess you could say I've introduced myself gently to this particular veggie. The first time I prepared it earlier this year, I pureed the cauliflower to make faux mashed potatoes. Here, we're basically making a really delicious macaroni and cheese but swapping the pasta for cauliflower. I don't think you can go wrong when you add a creamy sauce, lots of shredded cheese (including my favorite, Gruyere) and a crispy topping to vegetables. Maybe I'll get brave and try to simply roast my cauliflower in the oven next time I make it, but for now this gratin is the perfect vehicle. The only thing the dish is lacking for me is color - maybe some fresh herbs sprinkled on top would help or, if you can find them, Deb over at Smitten Kitchen made the gratin with gorgeous purple and orange heads of cauliflower a few years ago.
Cauliflower isn't a veggie traditionally served at my house on Thanksgiving, but if it is at yours, I highly recommend trying this preparation. The nice thing about a gratin is that you can prep it entirely in advance, stick it in your fridge and just bake it right before you're ready to serve dinner. It also reheats perfectly if you'd rather go that route. It might even convert some of your guests to cauliflower fans!
adapted from Barefoot in Paris, by Ina Garten
1 (3-lb) 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 Gruyere, divided
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup bread crumbs (I used panko)
Preheat oven to 375 F. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the cauliflower until tender but still firm, about 5-6 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Add 2 tablespoons of the butter to a medium saucepan set over low heat. Once it melts, add the flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Slowly add the hot milk to the pan (to avoid dirtying another pot, I microwaved the milk in a 4-cup measuring cup for 2 minutes). Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking often. Once the milk begins to boil, whisk constantly for about 1 more minute, or until thickened. Remove the pot from the heat and add 1 teaspoon of coarse salt, the pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup of the Gruyere, and the Parmesan. Whisk together until you have a smooth sauce.
Pour about 1/3 of the sauce over the bottom of a 9-inch round pie plate (an 8x11 baking dish would work too). Spread the drained cauliflower evenly in the pan then pour the remaining sauce over the top. In a small bowl combine the bread crumbs and the remaining 1/4-cup of Gruyere. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the top of the gratin. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and drizzle them over the gratin. Finally, sprinkle the gratin with salt and pepper. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the top is browned.