On a night when we might get a light snow, warm and creamy vegetable gratins seem homey, comforting, just right. Made well, they don’t have that thick and gluey consistency reminiscent of school cafeteria food, or heaven forbid, your grandmother’s “casseroles.” To make this cauliflower dish, I first lightly steamed cauliflower florets and sliced stems until they were just crisp-tender, removed them to a colander and set them aside to cool. They will continue to cool while cooling and will also have a second shot in the oven with the sauce, so don’t over cook. Mushy cauliflower, unless it’s pureed, is not what you want here.
You also don’t want too much sauce. This should be a lightly dressed vegetable not cheese gravy with ingredients. For the dressing, I made a light béchamel sauce. For half a medium head of cauliflower, I used 1 tbsp butter, 1 tbsp diced onions, 1 tbsp flour and 1 cup lightly warmed low-fat milk. Alternatively, I could have used ¾ cup of light chicken or vegetable broth and ¼ cup light cream. To make the sauce, melt the butter over medium heat and cook the onion until translucent. Stir in the flour and whisk constantly until the flour is fully incorporated and some of its rawness has been cooked off, 3-4 minutes. Do not let it brown. Gradually add the warmed liquid, whisking constantly until it is fully incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Let it come to nearly a boil, and lower the heat, letting it bubble away for a few minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in cheese. I used a light cheddar but Parmesan would be good.
Toss the vegetables into the sauce and pick them out with tongs, transferring them to a buttered baking dish. Spoon the excess sauce on top. Leaves as is or sprinkle with paprika or pimenton or thyme leaves. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven until bubbly, about 25 minutes. Let sit for a couple minutes before serving.