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Spicy Cauliflower Gratin: A Comfort Food Favorite


As winter melts into spring, we’ve been doing our best to keep seasonal eating interesting. There’s still a month to go before anything new shows up on the scene, so I’ve been experimenting with favorite side dishes and winter standards. Have you had some cauliflower lately? Don’t be fooled by its innocuous coloring, cauliflower is a member of the cruciferous family and has lots of vitamins, minerals, and even anti-cancer properties. Of course, this dish has a lot of butter and cheese, but let’s focus on the bright side, shall we?

This simple gratin has just a hint of spice, a terrific depth of flavor, and is super satisfying. Lots of bay leaves add aroma and complexity to this classic gratin. It’s a great accompaniment to a meat dish, or it can be served in larger portions as a main dish. If you’re making it for kids you may want to hold off on the spice, or make a less spicy version for little palates.

Spicy Cauliflower Gratin with Bay (adapted from Real Simple)
serves 6 as a side

1 – 2 large cauliflower stalks
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk, room temperature
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup Pecorino, grated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon (or more) fresh ground pepper, plus more for top
8 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a shallow baking dish and set aside.

Slice the cauliflower into 1 – 2″ florets. In a large pot, bring 1″ of water to a boil. Add the cauliflower, cover, and steam for 12 minutes. Drain, and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium-high heat. When the butter is bubbly and fragrant, whisk in the flour, and continue whisking for 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk, until the mixture is thick and creamy. Add the salt, pepper, bay leaves, nutmeg, and red pepper flakes. Once the milk mixture starts to bubble at the edges, turn heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

Turn off the heat, and stir in the cheese until it has all melted.

Arrange the steamed florets in the prepared baking dish. Pour the cheese mixture over the cauliflower, and stir to combine. Add a few grinds of pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes to the top. Bake until the top is a light golden brown and the filling is bubbling, roughly 15 – 20 minutes.

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