Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts
Here’s your proof, folks. I do eat my veggies.
Granted, I prefer my veggies covered in cheese. (OK, I’ll admit it: I’d probably eat a newspaper if you put enough cheese on it.)
So, a while ago, I was talking to a friend at work about eating vegetables. Specifically, cauliflower.
Now, I never really liked cauliflower.
I mean, look at this thing. It’s not the friendliest looking vegetable in the world. It reminds me of some kind of sea creature, or a piece of freakish, land-dwelling coral.
My friend and I were talking about ways to make cauliflower more appealing (“edible” I think is the exact word we used). He mentioned that his girlfriend mixed it with cheese and baked it.
“Mix it with cheese.”
You know that those are the magic words with me, so I figured I’d give it a try.
I chopped up a bunch of cauliflower, gave it a quick, steamy sauna treatment to get it cooking, then doused it with a thick, nutmeg-and-garlic spiked Bechamel (a basic French white sauce with flour, butter, and milk).
I sprinkled the creamy mixture with toasted walnuts, and tucked it in under a blanket of grated fontina and Emmenthaler.
The pan took a quick spin in the oven—just until the cheese was molten, bubbly, and a little bit brown, and…voila!
The Most. Delicious. Cauliflower. Ever.
Seriously: If you don’t like cauliflower, try it this way.
I couldn’t stop eating it. It’s nutty and rich. The cauliflower is soft, but not mushy. The walnuts provide just the right amount of texture and crunch.
Serve it as a hearty side dish. If you’re like me, you might just find yourself sneaking a bowl as a midnight snack. (After all, am I not a mouse?)
Stop. What is a gratin, again?
Good question. A gratin is a dish that is sprinkled with cheese (or buttered bread crumbs), then baked ’til brown and crisp.
You usually make gratins in a shallow, wide dish, to maximize the crispy surface.
A note on cheese
I used a mixture of grated fontina and Emmenthaler cheeses. By all means, substitute any cheese you like, as long as it melts well.
Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts
8 cups chopped cauliflower (that’s about 3/4 of a giant head)
3 Tbls. water
6 Tbls. butter
3 Tbls. flour
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup walnuts, toasted then chopped
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ground garlic
1 cup fontina cheese, grated
1/2 cup Emmenthaler cheese, grated
Serves 6-8 (yields one 9 x 13-inch pan)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 glass baking dish and set it aside.
The easiest way to dispatch a cauliflower
Grab your cauliflower.
Flip him over, so he’s stem-side up.
Rip off all his leaves.
Trim some of the stem off, so it’s easier to get around.
Wedge your knife into the cauliflower at the base of the stem.
Cut around the stem in a circle. Remove it. Toss the leaves and the stem. (Or do folks out there use them for something? Anyone?)
Then, whack the cauliflower in half with a big, sharp knife. (I have a great recipe somewhere that I ripped out of a food magazine for large, roasted slices of cauliflower. Going to try that next, I think.)
Cut out more of that pesky stem. Cut it into a few pieces and toss it in with the cauliflower florets, if you like. It’s not inedible. It’s just in the way here.
When you remove that part of the stem, it will be easy break it into smaller sections.
Cut the sections into a few pieces.
Measure them out and put them into a large bowl.
Steam the cauliflower
Drizzle the cauliflower with 3 Tablespoons of water. Cover and steam in the microwave until just fork tender. (Your cooking time will vary based on how powerful your microwave is. I cooked mine on high for about 5 minutes, then let it sit covered for a few more.)
If you don’t like to nuke veggies, by all means, steam them in a steamer, or in a pan with a little water.
Spread the cauliflower out in your prepared pan.
Toast the walnuts
You can do this part ahead, if you like.
Grab your walnuts. Put them in a non-stick pan over medium heat, stirring frequently until they start to brown and get deliciously fragrant.
Let the nuts cool until you can comfortably handle them, then chop them up.
Set them aside while you make the sauce.
Make the sauce
Melt the butter in a medium, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat.
When the butter has melted, toss in the flour. Whisk it together with the butter.
Keep the heat on medium, and let the mixture (your roux) cook for a few minutes, whisking frequently. You want to cook it long enough to get the raw taste out of the flour, but not so long that it starts to brown.
Pour in the milk and the cream, whisking immediately to break up any lumps.
Raise the heat a little so that your mixture comes up to a simmer. Simmer for a few minutes, whisking constantly, until the sauce looks and feels thicker.
Toss in the nutmeg and the garlic powder.
Whisk to combine.
If you wanted to make the dish EXTRA cheesy, you could toss some extra grated cheese into the sauce and stir ’til it melts.
Assemble the gratin
Pour the hot sauce over the cauliflower.
Give it a few tosses with a spatula to coat the cauliflower.
Sprinkle evenly with the toasted, chopped walnuts.
And then blanket with grated cheese.
Bake, serve, and enjoy!
Pop the pan into your preheated, 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes. This is mainly to melt and brown the cheese, and let the cauliflower meld happily with the sauce.
It’s done when it’s melted and bubbly and a little bit brown on top.
Serve and enjoy!