Think of this dish as a paleo/keto alternative to mac & cheese. It is, honestly, suprisingly delicious and I personally would prefer it over mac & cheese due to the crispiness that the cauliflower brings.
This is a great recipe as a learning tool too, as it allows one to learn one of the main five or “mother sauces: the Sauce Béchamel, without too much opportunity to screw up in the main part of the dish.
All the more props to the Joy of Cooking book (1997 edition = best edition).
Timing wise, there’s about 10 minutes on hands-on with the Béchamel, about 30 of cooking time.
As an order of events, prepare the cauliflower florets and the grated cheese before-hand as the Béchamel should be poured on while still hot.
Use a good quality cheese: Gruyère, aged Cheddar, Parmesan, or smoked Gouda work really well.
- 2 lbs of cauliflower, cut into small florets
- 1/2 tbsp salt
- juice of 1 lemon or about 1/4 cup of lemon juice
- 2/3 cups of grated cheese (add 1 full cup for extra-cheesiness)
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard (or 1/2 tsp of ground nutmeg)
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (can experiment with various flavors)
- 1 tbsp of red pepper flakes, ground red pepper, or paprika
Piece of advice: like most sauces it’s a bit easier to thin out than it is to thicken.
- 1 1/4 cups milk
- 1/4 onion
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 whole cloves
- pinch of fresh grated nutmeg (option)
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
For thicker sauce, increase the butter and flour by 1 tablespoon each.
For the Béchamel the keyword is slowly.
- Preheat the over to 350F. Butter a 2-quart gratin dish.
- Boil the cauliflower with 1/2 tbsp salt and the lemon juice in 8 quarts of water, for 10 to 15 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender yet still crisp.
- Drain well and spread in the gratin dish.
Sprinkle with the grated cheese.
- Stick the bay leaf to the quarter onion using the two whole cloves.
Simmer in the milk gently, uncovered to infuse flavor into the milk.
- Meanwhile, in a medium, heavy saucepan, melt over low heat the 2 tablespoons of butter.
Gently stir in the all-purpose flower, ensuring all clumps are removed.
Cook over medium-low heat for 2 or 3 minutes until the roux (the mix) is just fragrant but not darkened.
Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
Slowly whisk in the warm milk and return to heat.
Bring the sauce slowly to a simmer over low heat without boiling, whisking to prevent lumps; stir often and skim any skin that forms, until it reaches the consistency of thick cream soup, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Mix 1 1/2 cup of the sauce with 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard and spoon over the cauliflower.
- Sprinkle 1/3 cup of grated cheese along with
Bake until bubbly and browned on top, about 25 minutes.
- Serve sprinkled with the pepper flakes.