Cauliflower is one of the most magical vegetables we know. It’s a work horse, standing up to whatever weird contortionist acts low-carbers, vegans, and paleos throw at it. One day it’s rice, the next it’s an analogue for buffalo chicken. We read a recipe the other day where someone used it to make fucking brownies. For all that hard work, cauliflower deserves a long, decidedly straightforward, culinary nap. Preferably one under velvety blanket of gruyere spiked bechamel.
Cauliflower Gratin with Ham Breadcrumbs is exactly what it says on the tin. No fancy trickery or witchcraft about it. And it’s the duh-you-dummy, super easy side you need in your life this spring. For brunches, for baby showers, for religious holiday potlucks– even for eating straight out of the pan in “yoga” pants while you watch the teevee. Technically a vegetable but mostly cheese sauce that’s gone crispy at the edges: serve it at your fanciest foodie soiree, or give it to your grandma. It is a great equalizer that’s universally adored. Cauliflower Gratin is literally everything.
While we firmly believe that brassicas don’t need cheese to be the best dish on your table: We are vast, we contain multitudes. Sometimes you need a fucking gratin. Sorry that we’re not even remotely sorry
- One 2lb head of Cauliflower– which should equal about 4 cups of veggie
- 3 tbsp Butter
- 1 clove Garlic, peeled and cut in half.
- 2 tbsp Flour
- 1 ½ cups Whole Milk
- ½ cup Half and Half or Heavy Cream
- 4 oz Gruyere– which should equal about 1 cup shredded
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan, plus an additional ¼ cup as topping
- Hardly any Nutmeg (see below)
- Salt, Black Pepper, to taste
- 1 ½ cups Ham Bread Crumbs (recipe down yonder!), or regular ones if you’re feelin lazy
- Preheat your oven to 350°
- Remove the outer leaves from your cauliflower and trim up any dry or gnarly looking edges of the remaining white stuff. Using a knife you feel comfortable wielding, separate the florets from the stalk into thumb-sized chunks. Then cut the stalks into thin strips, planks, or even cubes that are about ¼ inch thick. There’s no room for wasting stalk in this dish or in our lives. It’s just as delicious (and facilitates the consumption of cheese just as well) as the fluffy ends.
- Place the chopped cauliflower onto a cookie sheet lined with tin foil and roast in the oven to get a head start for 10-15 minutes– which is conveniently long enough to make the bechamel.
- In a large saucepan, melt the butter over low heat with a peeled clove of garlic that has been cut in half. Keep going until the garlic gets a little frizzled on the edges, and then fish out the clove. We just want a little hint of something special in the background, so just a little garlic is all you need. Add the flour and cook, stirring frequently, until the flour becomes lightly browned and nutty. This is a roux. It is wonderful.
- Stir in the milk and half and half into the roux, and let things simmer until thickened slightly. It should be the consistency of a mostly melted milkshake. Kill the heat and fold in the gruyere and ¼ cup of parmesan. Sprinkle in the barest whisper of nutmeg. We’re talking, like, a mouse fart friends. Hardly anything.
- Transfer the par-cooked cauliflower to the final baking dish (casserole, cast iron, whatever you’ve got handy), and cover in the cheese sauce. Give it a taste with a piece of cauliflower and season with lots of black pepper and a little salt (depending on how salty your cheeses are). Toss the cheese sauce and cauliflower well. Sprinkle the top with Ham Bread Crumbs (below), and bake at 350° until bubbly, browned, and delicious.
- 4 oz ready-to-eat (or left over!) Country Ham or another favorite cured Pork product. Bacon wouldn’t be terrible.
- 1 tbsp Butter
- A chunk of Baguette or other delicious bread about the size of your fist.
- Finely dice the country ham and place in a large skillet to render over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until some fat and juicy deliciousness is released and the ham starts to brown on the edges. If things look dry, add 1 tbsp of Butter.
- While the ham renders, slice your baguette into small chunks and toss it into your food processor or blender. Give it a bzz to chop it up real little.
- Add the bzz’d up bread into the pan with the ham and its glorious fat. Crank the heat to high and fry the bread crumbs while stirring constantly for about 3 minutes. When you’re done, the bread should be a little brown in some spots, and generally coated with ham. Set it aside until you’re ready to use it; it’ll keep in the fridge tightly sealed for a day or two and in the freezer for up to two weeks.