Surely I’m not the only one who cannot resist those freakishly-hued cauliflowers, right? But although these were labeled “organic” and “all natural” I had my doubts when I par-boiled the purple and it turned the water a deep blue and I boiled the orange and it managed to get even brighter. Like Cheez-Whiz from a can. Not that we here at the Smitten Kitchen would ever know about such unnatural things.
Anyway, there is something rather brilliant about vegetable gratins. You start out with all of the fixings of a good mac-and-cheese — a roux, a bechamel, a pile of glorious shredded cheese and a little breadcrumbs to help form a top crust — and then you swap out the pasta for a vegetable. Because if there is a vegetable in it, it must be health food, right?
Hoo hoo hee. That said, I think that gratins are any dinner party host’s best friend. They reheat fantastically, or they can be par-cooked and finished as guests arrive. They can easily be made a day in advance and just baked as needed. And, they’re forvgiving if you need to leave them in the oven a bit longer as your always-tardy friends filter in.
They’re also, with an earnest pile of green salad, a great cold-weather weekend lunch. Like, it is so on.
Adapted, barely, from Ina Garten
1 (3-pound) head cauliflower, cut into large florets
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, divided
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups hot milk
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3/4 cup freshly grated Gruyere, divided
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Cook the cauliflower florets in a large pot of boiling salted water for 5 to 6 minutes, until tender but still firm. Drain.
Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Pour the hot milk into the butter-flour mixture and stir until it comes to a boil. Boil, whisking constantly, for 1 minute, or until thickened. Off the heat, add 1 teaspoon of salt, the pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup of the Gruyere, and the Parmesan.
Pour 1/3 of the sauce on the bottom of an 8 by 11 by 2-inch baking dish. Place the drained cauliflower on top and then spread the rest of the sauce evenly on top. Combine the bread crumbs with the remaining 1/4 cup of Gruyere and sprinkle on top. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and drizzle over the gratin. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is browned. Serve hot or at room temperature.