As so often happens, I got the idea for CAULIFLOWER GRATIN from America’s Test Kitchen. Rather than using cream or milk for the sauce, they pureed some of the cauliflower with water to get the liquid. Brilliant!
However, I felt the overall flavor to be lacking. Cauliflower is a very bland vegetable and needs flavor to come from elsewhere. So I exchanged Pecorino-Romano (which has more of a bite) for the Parmesan ATK used, and added a little Gorgonzola, for good measure. Also, I bumped up the cayenne and added in a couple of scallions. Finally, since my husband complained there wasn’t enough topping, I doubled the panko (but not the butter). Perfect!
Note: If you’re not familiar with panko, they’re puffed bread crumbs. You can find them in the bread crumb section or the Asian section of the market.
- 2 heads cauliflower (about 4 lbs total)
- 3 cups + 2 tsp water, divided
- 6 T + 2 T butter, divided
- 1 cup panko
- 2 scallions, sliced thinly – white and green part
- 2½ oz Gorgonzola cheese
- 1 cup + 1/2 cup (1½ + 3 oz) Pecorino-Romano cheese, grated, divided
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp white pepper (or black pepper)
- 1/2 tsp dry mustard
- 1/8 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp cayenne
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
Preheat oven to 400º Fahrenheit.
Remove and discard all green leaves from cauliflowers. Place heads upside down and, with a sharp knife, cut out cores. Slice off and discard the discolored end of core. Then slice remainder into 1/8″ thick slices. Place cauliflower right side up and slice into 3/4″ slabs. Remove florets from stalks. Cut the stalks into 1/8″ slices and place them with the core pieces. (The stalk and core pieces will become the basis for the sauce.)Into a Dutch oven, place 3 cups of water, 6 T butter (cut into pieces so it melts faster), all the sliced stalks and core pieces, and 2 cups of the florets. Bring to a boil.Place the remaining florets on a large steamer basket. (It’s a bit of a balancing act!) When water/core slices comes to a boil, carefully place steamer basket in Dutch oven. (You may need to remove some of the florets before placing the basket in the Dutch oven – they tend to roll – then replace them once the basket is set in place.) You’re going to steam the florets and boil the core/stalks at the same time.Cover and let cook until florets are easily pierced with a sharp knife (about 15 minutes). Don’t undercook the cauliflower in the hopes it will continue to cook in the oven – it won’t.
While cauliflower is cooking, melt 2 T butter in a skillet. Add in the panko, and brown over medium heat, stirring constantly. Don’t walk away – the panko will brown in 1-2 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and let cool. When florets are tender, remove steamer basket from Dutch oven and pour cooked florets into a large bowl. Add in the scallions. Check to see if the stalks in the water are tender (mine always are). If not, cover and continue to cook until they are tender. Remove lid and let cool about 10 minutes.
Into a blender place the Gorgonzola, 1/2 cup (1½ oz) Pecorino-Romano, salt, pepper, mustard, nutmeg, and cayenne. Pour in the cooking water & core slices. (If you have a small blender, you may need to do this 2 batches.) Blend 1 minute, until creamy.
In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch and 1 tsp water together. (This will help thicken the sauce a little.) Pour this into the blender, then blend another minute. Pour sauce into the bowl with the florets and gently mix (you don’t want to break the florets). Empty mixture into a 9″ x 13″ casserole dish. Into the cooled panko stir remaining Parmesan (1 cup) and chopped parsley. Sprinkle evenly on top of cauliflower. Bake, uncovered, at 400º F for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let set 20-25 minutes before serving.