While the original recipe in The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone declares this an old-fashioned treatment of cauliflower, I say there’s nothing more timeless and homey than surrounding roasted veggies with classic bechamel and deep, smoky cheddar cheese.
- 3 T + 1 t butter
- 1 head cauliflower (about 2 lbs.), leaves trimmed, core removed, small stems and florets cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 T olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Ground black pepper
- 1/2 t caraway seeds
- 2 C whole milk
- 1/2 small yellow onion, coarsely grated on a box grater
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 T all-purpose flour
- 1/2 C fresh bread crumbs (see notes)
- 1 C coarsely grated smoked cheddar
- Paprika (optional garnish)
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees (F). Grease an 8 by 10 inch rectangular dish (at least 1 1/2″ depth; or oval gratin dish about 8 1/2″ across at the shortest width) with 1 teaspoon butter. Toss cauliflower pieces with oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast about 8 minutes in lower third of oven, until just beginning to brown. Reduce oven to 375.
- Press firmly on an even layer of caraway seeds with a rolling pin, pan, or heavy baking dish to crush them (they’ll stay intact but become fragrant and release flavor later). Heat the crushed seeds, milk, onion, and bay leaf in a small saucepan over medium high. When just boiling, turn off heat and allow to steep.
- Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and stir constantly for 2 to 3 minutes, to cook the raw taste out of the flour. Slowly pour in warm milk mixture, including additions, while whisking, to combine. Increase heat slightly to bring to a simmer, while whisking or stirring with a wooden spoon. Maintain a gentle simmer and stir constantly until thickened, 6 to 7 minutes. Season white sauce with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, or to taste.
- Melt last tablespoon butter in the microwave (about 45 seconds, 50% power) and stir into bread crumbs to coat.
- To assemble, spread cauliflower evenly in prepared baking dish. Cover with half the grated cheddar, then pour white sauce evenly over the top, removing the bay leaf. Sprinkle with remaining cheese, then top with the buttered bread crumbs.
- Baked assembled gratin at 375 (F) for 30 minutes, until top begins to brown. If not golden after 30 minutes, heat about 8 inches from the broiler for a few minutes, or until desired shade is reached. Cool for a few minutes, then dust with paprika, if using. Scoop onto plates to serve, trying to keep the bread crumb topping face up.
To make fresh bread crumbs, remove crusts from sturdy fresh bread. Cut into large chunks and pulse in the food processor until desired crumb size and uniformity is reached, a minute or two.
- Prep Time: 45 mins
- Cook Time: 40 mins
- Category: Dinner
- Cuisine: Vegetarian