Low carb comfort food? Sign me up! Upon finding myself in possession of a generous amount of cauliflower, I looked through a few cookbooks and blogs for inspiration, and one of my all-time favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen, came through with a great idea for cauliflower cheese. It’s kind of like mac and cheese, only with cauliflower instead of macaroni. Doesn’t it sound delicious? I thought so! So here’s my version. I’ve adapted Smitten Kitchen’s recipe by using Gruyére instead of Cheddar, adding some extra Dijon mustard, and topping it with some smoked paprika and crunchy panko (breadcrumbs). (But you can leave those off if you are avoiding all carbs, or substitute sliced almonds.)
Here’s how it works: You steam the cauliflower, meanwhile making a cheese sauce. Then you assemble the dish, top it with crumbs, and bake it until golden brown and bubbly. You can even use your cute little mini cocottes if you like (because you know you want to), or a bigger 2-quart casserole.
- About 2 lbs. cauliflower florets, trimmed of tough stems and cut into bite-sized pieces
- 4 T. butter
- 4 T. flour
- 2 tsp. mustard powder
- 2 tsp. prepared Dijon mustard
- Sea salt or kosher salt, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, cayenne, or chipotle
- 2 c. whole milk (I didn't have whole milk, so I used an unscientific mix of 1½ cups 1% milk and ½ cup half-and-half)
- 1½ c. grated Gruyére cheese (or good-quality sharp Cheddar, which the original recipe calls for)
- ¼ to ½ c. panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) or regular plain breadcrumbs
- Smoked paprika
- Smoked salt (optional)
- Good-quality cooking spray, or olive oil in a Misto
- Chopped fresh parsley for garnish, if desired
- Steam cauliflower: If using an electric steamer, fill the water tank, place the cauliflower florets in the steamer basket, cover, and set for 12-15 minutes (I like it a bit softer so I did 15 minutes). If using a pot with insert, fill the pot with water up until the bottom of the insert (without letting water in the insert), place the cauliflower in the insert, bring to a boil, lower the heat, and steam for 12-15 minutes. Once done, drain the cauliflower on a kitchen towel to wick away as much moisture as possible. Pat the cauliflower dry with a paper towel.
- Make the cheese sauce: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. While the cauliflower is steaming, measure out the butter, flour, milk, and mustard and make sure the ground pepper and grated cheese are handy - you won't want to stop stirring the sauce to measure them. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add flour and whisk to combine, cooking 2-3 minutes (this gets rid of the raw-flour taste). Add mustard powder and generous dash of ground pepper to taste (black, cayenne, or chipotle), whisking continuously. Drizzle the milk in a thin, steady stream, whisking the entire time so that no lumps form. Whisk in the prepared Dijon. Bring to a simmer, stirring the entire time, until the mixture thickens slightly. Add the grated Gruyére a handful at a time, stirring until each addition is melted before adding the next. Turn off the heat, taste, and adjust for salt and pepper as needed.
- Assemble the dish: Make sure your cauliflower florets are nice and dry - pat them dry with a paper towel one more time if needed. Spread them in the 2-quart casserole dish, or place them in the mini cocottes, and spoon the cheese sauce over them. Sprinkle with panko (don't be too worried about measuring - just top it to your liking), and then sprinkle the panko with smoked paprika (and a little smoked salt if you have it). Spray the top of each dish with cooking spray so there is just a touch of oil on the panko - this is necessary so it will brown in the oven. Bake at 400 degrees until golden brown and bubbly, about 25-30 minutes for mini-cocottes and 30-35 minutes for a larger dish. Sprinkle with chopped parsley, if desired. Enjoy!!