Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts

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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.)

But still.


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 ovenβ€”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.

Emmenthaler cheese

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.

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

Flip him over, so he’s stem-side up.

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

Rip off all his leaves.

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

Trim some of the stem off, so it’s easier to get around.

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

Wedge your knife into the cauliflower at the base of the stem.

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

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?)

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

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.)

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

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.

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

When you remove that part of the stem, it will be easy break it into smaller sections.

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

Like this.

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

Cut the sections into a few pieces.

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

Measure them out and put them into a large bowl.

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

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.)

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

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.

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

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.

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

When the butter has melted, toss in the flour. Whisk it together with the butter.

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

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.

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

Pour in the milk and the cream, whisking immediately to break up any lumps.

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

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.

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

Toss in the nutmeg and the garlic powder.

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

Whisk to combine.

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

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.

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

Give it a few tosses with a spatula to coat the cauliflower.

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

Sprinkle evenly with the toasted, chopped walnuts.

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

And then blanket with grated cheese.

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

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.

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

It’s done when it’s melted and bubbly and a little bit brown on top.

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

Serve and enjoy!

Cauliflower Gratin with Toasted Walnuts at The Hungry Mouse

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Jessie Cross is a cookbook author and creator of The Hungry Mouse, a monster online food blog w/500+ recipes. When she's not shopping for cheese or baking pies, Jessie serves as an Associate Creative Director at PARTNERS+simons, a boutique ad agency in Boston. She lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and two small, fluffy wolves.

34 COMMENTS

  1. Oh my. I know my veggie love is fairly limited, but seeing as my New Year’s resolution was to broaden my food horizons, I GUESS I could burden myself to try cauliflower smothered in cheese and bechamel. I’m saying this so you will know what a challenge it will be, for sure.

  2. I LOVE cauliflower. Raw and cooked. With cheese sauce or butter or just lemon juice. In a cheesy soup. Probably the only way I wouldn’t like it is in a pie. I’ve been seeing a lot ot recipes lately for roasted cauliflower, some with balsamic vinegar, and so will be giving that a try, too. But my favorite is steamed and with cheese, so I think this recipe will be on the menu very soon. I hope you’re cold is about gone, although I know your cold weather isn’t going to be gone anytime soon. Stay warm. *hugs*

    • Yeah! You must have seen the recipe I’m talking about. You cut large, dramatic slices of cauliflower and roast them with a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice (or something simple like that).

      Let me know how you like it!

      +Jessie

    • “in a pie”. Hmmm. Well, there’s a restaurant we go to that does the most incredible cauliflower quiche. That’s close to being a pie. πŸ™‚

      This recipe looks SO GOOD. I usually just make a cheese sauce (add cheddar to the white sauce, melt, pour over cooked cauliflower, brown lightly in oven) but walnuts… mmmmmmmm walnuts! Gotta give this a try!

  3. I too was not a great fan of this veggie until I tried it roasted!
    Using your method above, dispatch you cauliflower into equal sized pieces. Place on a cookie sheet. Mix with a little olive oil salt & pepper.(I use my hands to get an even coat) Roast at 400 degrees(preheat)for about 15 to 20 min. Stirring at least once. Eat like popcorn or serve as a normal side dish.
    It is fantastic, honest!
    Thanks for your recipe and gorgeous pics!

  4. I’ll definitely try this one. The honey loves cauliflower. But, Jessie…what’s ground garlic? Same as garlic powder? Thanks.

  5. Looks delish, and I like the addition of crunch with the nuts. I actually prefer my cauliflower raw though. It’s the one veggie, besides carrots, that I’d rather eat au naturale. : )

  6. That looks decadently delicious. I mean really, heavy cream and cheese can’t go wrong. Add toasted nuts and garlic and… mouthgasm!

    But I have to give a big shout out to roasted cauliflower. While the dramatic slices sound yummy, I prefer to cut the florets pretty small so that they brown up easily. Because the browned part? That makes it delicious. A roasted cauliflower recipe that has cheese AND bacon (and it’s TASTY!) -> http://www.cinnamonspiceandeverythingnice.com/2009/12/side-dish-showdown.html

  7. you know, about a month ago i got a craving for something similar but more mashed up. a billion years ago, i lived in allston basically across comm ave from the pizzeria uno’s. when faced with picky eaters or needed a quick ‘pre-movie dinner’ we’d often go there.

    low/no-carb was all the rage so as part of their side dish selection, instead of the ‘skinless bake’ (think twice baked stuffed potatoes) they had one but w/ cauliflower instead of potatoes n stuff. it was SO GOOD. of course i no longer see it on the menu but now i can do it myself!

  8. Ooooo…fantastic. I’m a big fan of both cauliflower and walnuts, both super healthy foods! Emmentaler isn’t my fav cheese, but gruyere is, and I’m sure a delicious substitute. Thank you for a fantastic idea.

  9. I actually toss all my veggie off cuts in to a container in the freezer and use them later for making vege stock with πŸ™‚

    I love the idea of walnuts in the sauce.. those wee creative gems and tips are exactly what i love about your posts!

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