Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cauliflower Not Mac-and-Cheese

Let’s do a quick focus group.

What comes to mind when you hear “cauliflower gratin”?

French. Butter. Cheese. Milk. Baked. Rich. Crusty. Yum. Yes?

The purpose of my research is to rebrand the cauliflower gratin. (A gratin, by the way, is a baked vegetable covered in a creamy cheese sauce.) Yes, this sort of thing is usually rich and fatty, but I like to think of my cauliflower gratin as a lighter version of mac and cheese—healthier comfort food for the winter months (or cold spring months, in these parts).

Baked cauliflower is naturally bland and creamy, kind of like noodles, but with far fewer calories and carbs. A gratin is hot and bubbly, the food equivalent of wearing a fuzzy, oversized sweater. So you can have your crusty, cheesy hot mess in a baking pan without the nutritional disaster that is traditional macaroni and cheese.

Here’s what I do, based on a recipe from the blog Chocolate and Zucchini: Preheat the oven to 425. Cut up a large head of cauliflower into small-ish chunks. Place in a foil-lined pan, and sprinkle with a bit of salt, black pepper and a dash of nutmeg.

Melt 2 tbs. butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir 3 tbs. flour into the butter and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add 1 cup of milk to the butter and flour, and bring the milk to a simmer, stirring to make sure the flour is dissolved.

When the milk has a thick, saucy texture, turn off the heat and let cool for a few minutes. Add cheese—I usually add 3 tbs. whipped cream cheese, and ½ cup of whatever cheese I happen to have on hand, as long as it’s a fairly mild variety. I’ve used mozarrella, provolone, etc., successfully. (Comté is traditional for gratin, but we’re rebranding here.) Pour the cheese sauce over the cauliflower.

Sprinkle with breadcrumbs (optional), and bake 25 or so minutes, until the cauliflower is soft; then broil for 5 minutes. Let cool a bit and dig in.

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