Cauliflower (Or Broccoli) Au Gratin
I found an extraordinarily fine porterhouse steak in the supermarket one day recently, and took it home to dinner. I thought about bringing along a friend it would recognize. The idea of broccoli or spinach or something else au gratin, baked to bubbly and crusty with lots of cheese , the way our steakhouses do, sounded great to me--even though I'm no big fan of those dishes. I had a cauliflower in the refrigerator, fresh from the farm of a friend. Next thing I knew, I had cauliflower au gratin. You could also do this with broccoli.
You can make these ahead a day or so. Put all the ingredients into the au gratin dishes, cover securely with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. Bake them to order.
- 1 medium head cauliflower (or one bunch of broccoli)
- 1 Tbs. lemon juice
- 6 Tbs. butter
- 4 Tbs. flour
- 1 1/2 cups warm milk
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. white pepper
- 1/8 tsp. cayenne
- 1 cup shredded cheese (In order of preference: Fontina, Gruyere, Cheddar)
- 1/4 cup finely-grated Romano cheese
- 1/2 cup freshly grated French bread crumbs
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
1. Cut the cauliflower into smallish florets--about the size of your fingertips. Bring just enough water to cover the cauliflower to a boil in a saucepan, with the lemon juice. Boil until the cauliflower is no longer crisp, but not soft--about four minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.
2. In the meantime, melt the butter over medium heat in a small saucepan. Add the flour and stir with a whisk as if making a roux, but don't allow the blend to darken at all--about three minutes. This is bechamel.
3. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting. Add the milk and whisk until it thickens to the texture of very runny mashed potatoes. Add the salt, white pepper, cayenne, and the cheeses. Whisk until the cheese has melted into the bechamel completely.
4. Spoon about three tablespoons of this sauce into small au gratin dishes. (You can also do this in one large casserole dish.) Add enough cauliflower bits to fill the dishes about halfway. Spoon on more of the sauce, dividing it equally among all the dishes, and top with the rest of the cauliflower. With a spoon, gently mix the cauliflower bits around in the sauce.
5. Spoon about three tablespoons of this sauce into small au gratin dishes. (You can also do this in one large one, but it comes out better in individual dishes.) Add enough cauliflower bits to fill the dishes about halfway. Spoon on more of the sauce, dividing it equally among all the dishes, and top with the rest of the cauliflower. With a spoon, gently mix the cauliflower bits around in the sauce.
6. Sprinkle the tops of the gratin dishes with bread crumbs, and put them into the preheated oven at 400 degrees. Bake for about eight minutes, until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese on top has begun to brown.
7. Serve hot out of the oven in the au gratin dishes, but warn guests that this stuff is mouth-searingly hot for a few minutes.
Serves four to eight.
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