Like beets, cauliflower is a vegetable that gets very little respect. It’s like albino broccoli. But it’s really worth befriending the cauliflower for two reasons: roasted cauliflower and cauliflower cheese. It is also worth befriending because it will last a long time in your fridge before going bad. And I have a special spot in my heart for vegetables that are forgiving about being abandoned in the back of the fridge.
I saw this recipe for Greek Mac & Cheese and decided it had been too long since I had a cheesy casserole. Then I remembered the cauliflower in the back of the fridge.
Cauliflower cheese is, from what I can determine, a British dish. This makes sense— it is relatively mild, involves a cheesy creamy sauce, and is made in a casserole dish. It’s basically the same deal as macaroni and cheese,* except with cauliflower. It’s also ungodly satisfying. Like macaroni and cheese except like FIVE TIMES more satisfying. Truly.
Dave and I were so excited about cauliflower cheese that we picked up an extra head of cauliflower so we could make an ENORMOUS batch of cauliflower cheese and have leftovers forever.
Unfortunately, it turns out that only one head of cauliflower fits in our steaming pot at a time. So we made a batch of cauliflower cheese, plus a tray of roasted cauliflower, because you can always use leftover roasted vegetables.
Roasted cauliflower is really totally different from cauliflower cheese in character. I’m not sure I would call it “exotic,” but when compared with cauliflower cheese, it is, sort of. The flavors are rich instead of mild. You can mix a variety of spices into it to good effect (this recipe for roasted curried cauliflower is fantastic and just half a step harder than basic roasted cauliflower. Also, A.O.C., where the recipe is from, is a great San Francisco restaurant). But you can also just roasted it with salt and pepper and olive oil and it’s still great. You might consider this option if you have big plans for curry mayonnaise in your future, because what better to dip into curried mayonnaise than roasted cauliflower?
So, we made the cauliflower cheese and the roasted cauliflower at the same time. I love them both.
Onion and thyme. I didn’t use all the chopped onion, maybe 80%.
This dish does not require slavish attention to the recipe. I paid more attention to quantities in order to approximate a recipe, but you can kind of go by feel here.
- 1 large head cauliflower, chopped or broken up into bite-sized pieces.
- 2 1/2 tablespoons butter (thereabouts)
- 1 small onion (or leeks, or shallot), chopped
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- Approximately a cup of milk, maybe more
- a couple of big handfuls of grated cheese, I like a mix of cheddar and gruyere.
- 5 or 6 sprigs of thyme (not required, I just had a big bunch and I like thyme), leaves removed and slightly chopped if they’re big.
1. Steam the cauliflower until just done, about 10 minutes (or slightly more). Also preheat the oven to 400.
2. Melt the butter in the saucepan and cook the onions on medium or medium low heat until they’re softened. Add the flour and cook for a minute or two.
3. Slowly add the milk in, mixing the whole time (this is easier with a whisk than with a wooden spoon). Add enough that it becomes a creamy sauce consistency. Cook for a few more minutes, stirring. Season with salt and pepper. You want a fair amount, particularly pepper. Add in the thyme leaves if you’re using them.
4. Turn off the heat and stir in the cheese. Add a little more milk if things are looking gluey.
5. Mix all the ingredients together in a casserole dish and top with breadcrumbs. I sometimes add some grated cheese to the top at this point. Cook for 20 minutes, or until the top is browned.
- 1 head cauliflower, broken or cut up into bite-sized pieces.
- extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
Roast at 400 for 25 - 35 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cooked through and browned.
* It is acceptable to leave out the “and” when referring to cauliflower cheese, but never with macaroni and cheese. To call it macaroni cheese is to have no respect for yourself as an American.
** When you have leftover slices of bread that are stale (the front exposed slice on a loaf works well here) cut them up into inch big pieces, let them dry up fully, and then store them. When you need breadcrumbs, buzz them in the food processor. I use the full-size one for this, when I tried it in my mini-prep it made a crazy amount of noise and smelled slightly like burning plastic. So…I don’t do that anymore.