Comfort food = gratin. Something baked with grated cheese. While we’ve been preparing cauliflower every which way because it happens to be seasonally abundant, we really craved scalloped potatoes during an early blast of blustery weather. This lighter version with cauliflower filled the bill.
This is a very simple dish to make. After lightly steaming cauliflower, I made a white sauce of butter, flour, warm low-fat milk, grated white cheddar cheese and a large handful of fresh dill, and poured it over the cauliflower arranged in a shallow pan. Baked at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or so, it emerged puffy and golden, wonderfully aromatic and satisfying. The seasonings can be varied significantly. Use lovage or parsley instead of dill or use paprika or its smoked version pimenton, or on the spice side, try grated fresh nutmeg or ginger. I personally like to keep the seasonings light during cauliflower season since I like the vegetable to be present. The grocery market variety available at other times of year can be bland, so the seasonings matter more.
Cauliflower Gratin with Dill
½ medium head of cauliflower, separated into florets
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
1 c warm milk (low-fat is fine)
½ c grated white cheddar cheese or another hard cheese of your choice
Salt to taste
Handful of chopped dill or other herbs, or paprika or grated fresh nutmeg or ginger
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Steam the cauliflower untl crisp tender and transfer it to a gratin dish (I use an enameled cast-iron Le Creuset pan) or glass pie plate.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir in the flour with a whisk, mixing until smooth. Let it cook a minute or so, taking care not to brown it, to diminish the rawness of the flour. Gradually add the warm milk, whisking well to keep lumps from forming. Let the mixture simmer for about 5 minutes until thick, whisking from time to time to keep it smooth. Add the cheese and stir to melt it. Adjust for salt. Add the herbs or spices.
Pour the white sauce over the cauliflower and bake uncovered for about 25 minutes until brown and bubbly.
Serves 2-4 depending on what else you’re making.