Sweetest of sweets, I thank you: when displeasure
Did through my body wound my mind,
You took me thence, and in your house of pleasure
A dainty lodging me assigned.
-George Herbert (“Church Music“)

Time is a little of the essence here since I’m a) still in the process of shortening my paper to conference length, b) quite tired since I’ve had several meetings today about my work/dissertation, worked in the library, graded (supposedly) revised introductions and attended a very interesting, but long talk on Tolstoy, Yasnaia Poliana and Astapovo and c) need to respond to a few emails before going to bed. But I just wanted to check in and fulfill my goal of weekly blog posts (even in the face of academic adversity) since one of the points of this blog is to show that, despite all the deadlines and work, life can and should be enjoyable and full of homemade and fairly healthy food.

…Although, even as I both claim and wholeheartedly believe this, my subconscious, which must have been suffering from a few slight pangs of guilt, was telling me something a little different last night. I dreamt that I couldn’t find the book I was supposed to teach and, when I went to get it from a friend in the department, she refused to give it to me, telling me that my delinquency (what delinquency?) had gone far enough and that a letter had already been sent to my committee informing them about my dubious deeds (yes, in the subconscious melodrama clearly reigns; after all, when have I committed dubious deeds?)….

Regardless of my subconscious’ silly and meaningless warnings, here I am, recommending to you a surprisingly hearty and comforting combination: Cauliflower + a roux + grated cheese + breadcrumbs + time in the oven. What this equals is a tasty side dish that is sure to brighten up your week. To be honest, when it comes to cauliflower, I’ve always preferred it in the form of Fried Cauliflower Cakes, a staple of my family’s Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts, and, before stumbling upon this recipe, I had had my heart set on trying a Cauliflower Souffle (a souffle is something that I’ve wanted to make ever since I read a Sweet Valley Twins book in which Elizabeth, the overachieving and brilliant twin, found both her type A personality and GPA threatened by her inability to get a souffle to rise properly, but how can a girl make a souffle without the necessary deep souffle dish? It’s unheard of! Thus, a Plan B was born). Yet I have no choice to admit a simple fact: even if not a part of the original plan, vegetables covered in cheese can’t help but make everything better. 🙂 It’s even more wonderful when paired with grilled chicken; really, it’s all about simplicity and a dash of decadence.

Cauliflower Gratin
Slightly adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris
Yields 4-6 servings

1 head cauliflower, cut into large florets
Kosher salt
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 **(despite the fact that, when I asked for this cookbook, I wanted it for the French recipes, I decided to go the Irish route and use Irish cheddar; I was satisfied with the flavor, but feel free to use your cheese of choice)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 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 (or Irish Cheddar, etc.), 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 cheese 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.

2 thoughts on “Mission Cauliflower

  1. oh my — I've actually been having urges to read a Sweet Valley High book! (I even found myself looking at that very wikipedia entry a couple of weeks ago…) I'm sure Elizabeth pulled off the souffle in the end, though — in “the Spanish tiled kitchen.” A major literary source, they were, for me on California!

  2. I loved them as well (you should totally read one; if you'd like me to bring back a selection when I'm in PA, I'd be happy to oblige)! For each age, there seemed to be some fabulous adventure about the lovely 5'6″ twins (this indeed is where I got the idea that my ideal height should be 5'6…). 🙂 And, yes, Elizabeth pulled off the souffle in the end….There's no shortage of pans or perfection in the “Spanish tiled kitchen.”

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