I love gratins. All kinds, especially in the fall. The basis for a good gratin (if you don’t want to make the full-fat, full-cream version) is a good béchamel sauce.
For those of you that are not familiar with béchamel sauce, in addition to being the foundation for gratins, it is also used for homemade mac-n-cheese, lasagna, and anywhere else you need a creamy sauce. At its most basic, it is milk thickened with flour. The flour serves two purposes: to thicken the milk and to keep it from separating during cooking. For this cauliflower gratin, I added a very sharp white cheddar, dried mustard and thyme to the béchamel to create the sauce. I then topped it with crunchy panko and voila, a yummy, creamy, perfect-for-fall dish.
1 medium head of cauliflower cut into florets
2 tbsp butter
1 heaping tablespoon of all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk*
1 1/4 cup grated sharp white cheddar (the sharpest you can find)**
1/2 cup panko
1/2 tsp ground mustard
3 sprigs thyme
1. Preheat oven to 400. Spray a cast-iron skillet or other over safe pan with non stick spray and add cauliflower in even layers.
2. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and stir briefly until mixed.
3. Add a very small amount of milk and stir briskly until mixed. It will get really thick. Add a little more milk and stir again to mix. Keep repeating this until all the milk has been added. It is important to only add a very small amount at a time so you don’t end up with lumpy sauce.
4. Add the thyme, mustard and salt and pepper to taste. Stir and simmer until sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
5. Remove from heat and add 1 cup of the cheese (reserve 1/4 cup) slowly while stirring constantly.
6. Pour sauce over cauliflower.
7. In a small bowl, mix together panko, the remaining cheese and 1 tbsp of olive oil. Spread mixture evenly over cauliflower
8. Bake 25-30 minutes until cauliflower is tender and top is golden.
*I use whole milk for a creamier sauce and because I think it is healthier for you. When you take the fat out of milk, you leave all the sugar and your body cannot process the sugar without the fat.
**I never use pre-grated cheese for two reasons. One, it doesn’t taste the same. Two, they add cellulose (wood pulp) to the cheese to make it not stick together. Ick!