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Island Bites: Nothing to get steamed over …

DAVID LAPHAM PHOTO Cauliflower gratin
Cauliflower gratin

Steamed vegetables of any sort never did much for me.

Steaming is certainly one of least caloric ways to prepare them, but if given the choice, I like to cook most vegetables with some type of fat.

I still have grim memories of my middle school cafeteria, where uninspired ladles of steamed, mushy cauliflower were regularly unloaded onto our Styrofoam plates. I also remember the face of the cook doling them out.

Her expression seemed to say, “I know you aren’t going to enjoy this, and I don’t care if you eat it.” It made me wonder how much worse prison food could actually be.

As I happily discovered later on, cauliflower prepared in other ways reveals a vegetable with a nutty flavor and a creamy texture.

Although cauliflower gratin won’t exactly earn praise from calorie counters, it’s one of my favorite recipes to make in the fall.

You’ll see white, bright orange and purple cauliflower at farm stands. Typically, cauliflower grows best in cooler weather in very nutrient-dense soil.

This gratin’s preparation is similar to a classic potato gratin, except here flour is needed.

You’ll end up making what’s called a Mornay sauce, which is nothing more than a Béchamel sauce (a white sauce) with cheese. For optimal results, it’s important to let the gratin rest about 10 minutes before serving.

This added time allows the sauce to cool, which thickens it even further. Cauliflower gratin makes an excellent side to a roast chicken, or a piece of grilled or roasted fish, but can also hold its own with a green salad.
Bon appetit!

Cauliflower Gratin
Serves 6
1 medium head of cauliflower, cut into florets
1 clove garlic
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups whole milk
½ cup half & half or heavy cream
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon white or black pepper
½ cup Gruyère or white cheddar cheese
Pinch nutmeg
½ cup bread crumbs (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add cauliflower florets and cook until only slightly tender, about 3 minutes.

Remove florets with a slotted spoon and reserve. In a separate medium saucepan, melt butter. Add flour when butter is completely melted. Whisk until a smooth, bubbling paste forms.

Add cream, milk, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Whisk over medium-low heat until sauce is thick and lump-free, about 5-7 minutes (this is a Béchamel sauce). Add cheese and whisk until sauce is once again smooth (this is now a Mornay sauce).

Add florets. Rub garlic on the bottom and sides of a medium casserole dish. Add contents of saucepan and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Let cool for an additional 10 minutes before serving.

Chef’s note: For a slightly lighter version, substitute milk for half & half or heavy cream where indicated.