I don’t know about you, but I have never been a cauliflower fan. With cauliflower being one of the “it” foods now, I have been thinking that perhaps I should reassess my standing. After due consideration and tasting assessments, I have decided that out of 56 different vegetables that I know I have eaten, cauliflower comes in around #52. Or #53. Or maybe #54. But not 55 or 56. There are vegetables that are more unpleasant.
It’s not that cauliflower tastes bad, it’s just that it doesn’t really have much of a taste at all. There is a faint hint of the familiar cruciferous vegetable taste that accompanies broccoli and Brussels sprouts, but other than that, I can’t find any flavor of interest. It is definitely not a stand alone vegetable; it needs a lot more than salt to make it interesting.
As for nutritive value, raw cauliflower offers 77% of the recommended daily value (DV) for vitamin C and 20% of vitamin K, has 5.3g (2%) of the total daily value of carbs, and negligible amounts of fat. Cooked cauliflower offers 46% of the DV of vitamin C and 11% of vitamin K, and the carb value drops to 1%. I have to admit those are impressive amounts of vitamin C for cauliflower, raw or cooked, and if you are on a low carb diet, cauliflower is your best friend!
I also have to admit that I have felt perplexed by the cauliflower bandwagon in the past couple of years. I don’t want to eat mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes. And I don’t want to use cauliflower pizza crust in place of my regular wheat flour pizza crust. Apparently, I am a bit of a purest.
On the other hand, I am really grateful for all of the wonderful ways that cauliflower can be prepared now. Because it has such a subtle taste of its own, it can be mixed and matched with a variety of cooking methods, herbs and spices and other foods. Cauliflower has become a lot more approachable as a viable vegetable choice and no longer has to carry the stigma of having to just “eat your cauliflower because it is good for you”.
My recipe offering of Cauliflower Au Gratin is a mixed bag of super duper healthy and somewhat less healthy. Nutritionally it gets a B-, which I find to be acceptable in light of it being filling, highly flavorful and satisfying. The beautiful smoky flavor comes from three sources–bacon, smoked gouda and smoked paprika. Extra virgin olive oil replaces half of the butter and the base of the sauce is 1% milk, instead of the more traditional whole milk, 1/2 and 1/2 or cream. There are generous amounts of aromatics in the form of a large onion and 4 large cloves of garlic and the crunchy panko topping adds the perfect finish.
Break the rinsed cauliflower down into bite-sized florets. I had started to use my big chef’s knife, but I ended up switching to a paring knife for ease in handling.
Use a big, fat onion and large cloves of fresh garlic. Medium dice the onion and rough dice the garlic cloves. Heat a braiser or a deep frying pan that has a lid, over medium heat until hot. Add the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter to the pan. Add the onions to the pan and saute for about 2 minutes. No, you don’t have to time it! Add the garlic and saute for an additional minute or so.
Get those beautiful cauliflower florets and dump them in the pan. Tell them that you are going to bring real meaning to their lives over the next few minutes. Give them a few stirs to blend them the onions and garlic. Sprinkle the salt, pepper, smoked paprika and red pepper flakes over the cauliflower mixture and stir to blend evenly. Put the lid on the braiser or frying pan and lower the heat to medium low. Cook until cauliflower is crisp tender or shows slight resistance when pierced with a fork.
Things are about to start getting really fun. Sprinkle the flour over the cauliflower mixture and fold the ingredients together until the flour is well distributed among the vegetables. Turn the heat up to medium. Pour warm milk (I warmed it in the microwave) over the cauliflower mixture. Add the bacon and stir to combine. Continue stirring until the sauce thickens. Turn off the heat and move the braiser or frying pan to a cool burner.
Sprinkle the cheese over the cauliflower mixture. In the picture on the left, you can see that I added the smoked paprika along with the cheese. I had forgotten to add it earlier along with the other spices. These kinds of things happen when I’m doing too many things at once–cooking, photographing, trying to keep from touching something hot barehanded–you know, stuff like that. Anyway, Stir or fold the cheese into the cauliflower mixture. I’m warning you, all of the smoky goodness is almost unbearable. You’ll want to start picking at this au gratin right away. Try to hold yourself to two bites. That’s it; two bites. If you go to three bites, the whole dish is liable to vanish right before your glazed-over eyes.
If you held yourself to the two bite limit, good for you; you have enough cauliflower au gratin left to continue with the finishing touches. Transfer the au gratin to the prepared 9- x 9-inch casserole dish. Put the panko bread crumbs in a small mixing bowl. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and pour it over the bread crumbs. Toss together until well blended. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese to the bread crumbs and toss lightly. Sprinkle evenly over the au gratin. Bake at 375° F for about 25 minutes or until au gratin is bubbling and topping is golden brown.
Fresh from the oven. Look at how bubbly and golden this is! Let it cool for a few minutes and then top with chopped parsley.