Nothing sets me off like sanctimoniousness; that holier-than-thou, self-righteous, sermon-on-the-mount style of food writing. Often the sentiments are well-intentioned but everything is done so humorlessly, it’s hard for the average person to connect. And so it goes with vegetables. The general take, these days, seems to be that we should eat less dead bodies and more living green stuff. OK, I can get on board with that, though often the images associated with this new way of life are plates of kale and quinoa and other foods that start with a hard “K” sound. Can’t vegetables be sexy? Decadent? The kind of special dinner you might ask for on your birthday? Well, let’s not get carried away, but here’s a dinner that’s not at all good for you but is good for you in the broader sense because it’s got no dead bodies in it, just vegetables. Actually just one vegetable then lots of butter, flour, whole milk, cheese, and bread crumbs. There’s not a sanctimonious thing about it.
Say hello to my Cauliflower Gratin; or, more accurately, Ina Garten’s. I had the idea to make it because a cauliflower arrived with my CSA and it was Sunday and I didn’t feel like going out for more ingredients. But in my refrigerator I had milk, cheese, and butter, and also I had some leftover bread, so I knew I could whip that into a memorable dinner.
It’s actually a pretty fast process (hence the title of this post): take your cauliflower and cut it into florets.
Then boil them in lots of salted water until just tender.
Drain that and set the cauliflower aside. Then grate lots of cheese (I used cheddar and Parmesan; but lots of combinations would work):
OK, now’s the part that might intimidate you but, really, this is easy. You’re going to make a béchamel. Start by melting butter–you can use the same pot you cooked the cauliflower in, you don’t have to clean it–and adding flour and cooking those two things together (this is called making a roux):
You’re basically trying to cook away the raw flour taste. After a minute or two, you add warm milk and whisk whisk whisk:
Once you have a thick, cohesive sauce, take it off the heat and add all of your cheese and whisk whisk whisk:
Then stir in the cooked cauliflower, taste for salt (be aggressive here), add lots of freshly grated nutmeg and a pinch of cayenne, and then pour into a 9 X 13 baking dish. Top the mixture with more shredded cheese and bread crumbs, pouring on some melted butter to help it brown up:
Pop into a hot oven for 30 minutes and look what you’ve got when you’re done:
I mean, don’t you want to go swimming in there? Well don’t because I just want to eat that. And eat that. And eat that. (It’s true: Craig and I devoured that whole thing in 90 seconds.)
In the olden days, I’d type up Ina’s recipe right here and change the wording so I wouldn’t get sued, but now that I’m just a hobbyist food blogger again I can just give you the link and you can see the original recipe in Ina’s own Gartenian language.
So there you go: a vegetable-based dinner that doesn’t feel like a vegetable-based dinner. A million calories with 0 pretension; my kind of recipe.