I love cauliflower, especially when it is baked in a creamy cheese sauce with a bread crumb topping. It is a worthy addition to any holiday buffet meal. My recipe is Cajun-inspired because it has the spicy zip often found in recipes from this part of Louisiana. This is recipe is healthy, too, baked in a low-fat sauce.
My neighborhood grocery store chain featured gigantic and beautiful cauliflower this fall; often at a very low cost get customers into their store. How could you pass up a bargain? I purchased a cauliflower head from time to time and tried various adaptions of the au gratin cauliflower recipe. The heads averaged about three pounds and made a huge casserole — enough for a buffet for a large crowd. I also froze leftovers in small containers but these never lasted long. Not to brag, but this cauliflower au gratin recipe turned out well; a very good way to serve the vegetable.
Very Healthy Vegetable
Cauliflower is a a member of the cruciferous or brassicaceae family similar to cabbage and broccoli. It is a very healthy vegetable; low in calories, high in Vitamin C, B-complex vitamins and containing some minerals.
Cauliflower is also rich in phyto-nutrients such as indole-3-carbinol and sulforaphane which have anti-cancer properties. According to the “Nutrition and You” website , these plant sterols “appears to function as an anti-estrogen agent. Together these compounds have proven benefits against prostate, breast, cervical, colon, ovarian cancers by virtue of their cancer-cell growth inhibition, cytotoxic effects on cancer cells.” (//www.nutrition-and-you.com/cauliflower.html)
This WEB site is very optimistic; I don’t believe that there is research which shows that any one food prevents cancer so they are making some associations which may not be totally accurate.. The compounds in cauliflower have cancer modulating properties when studied in a laboratory which may or may not be true in humans. But the phyto-nutrients in cauliflower are very interesting and are being studied for a variety of mechanisms in preventing and treating chronic diseases. So this vegetable packs alot of punch! It is an excellent vegetable to include frequently as part of a healthy diet high in vegetables and plant foods.
Acquiring a taste for cauliflower
Cauliflower is an acquired taste for me. As a youngster, I’d squirm and wiggle; hold my nose or do anything to avoid eating this vegetable. Yuk! My awakening moment came when fried cauliflower florets were served on the cafeteria line at one of my jobs. I loved the fried cauliflower. Don’t know why; but that led to trying other preparations. Now I like cauliflower cooked just about anyway–can’t get enough
Emeril Lagasse Inspiration
The recipe is adapted from Emeril Lagasse, noted New Orleans Cajun chef, restaurateur and television personality. He featured “Broccoli and Cauliflower Au Gratin” on his WEB page recently. (emerils.com/123434/broccoli-and-cauliflower-au-gratin) I changed the recipe up quite a bit because I couldn’t get his quantities to work for me. The inspiration for using cayenne pepper came from Lagasse’s recipe. I added Tabasco sauce, too, giving the recipe a spicy touch. The bland cauliflower tolerates these spices which are often the hallmark of Cajun recipes.
Making the Recipe
This recipe isn’t difficult to prepare, but it does require that you make a cream sauce. I reduced the fat and calories in the sauce by using skim milk to make a low-fat cream sauce. Here’s how I made the recipe with photos from several recipe trials.First cut up the cauliflower and blanch. I cut the cauliflower into large florets after experimenting with various sizes. I liked the larger sizes the best. Then I added the cauliflower to a cup of lightly salted water in a large pot. When the water boiled, I covered, reduced heat to low and steamed the cauliflower until tender, about 10 minutes. You really need to steam and cook the cauliflower or it will still taste raw once the casserole is baked. After the au gratin sauce is added, the casserole just heats in the oven until the sauce bubbles and bread crumbs brown–not long enough to cook the cauliflower.
Make the cream sauce. Melt the margarine in a heavy, medium size pot. Add the flour and stir a minute to combine. Remove from stove. Very slowly stir in a small amount of the skim milk, stir constantly to break up flour clumps. I mash the flour clumps against the side of the pan with my wooden spoon until they are all gone. Then add the rest of the milk along with salt, cayenne pepper and a few drops of Tabasco sauce. Just a tiny bit of cayenne pepper is needed — it’s a very potent spice. Cook and stir constantly over low heat until the cream sauce thickens and bubbles. I like this kitchen gadget – a flat bottomed wooden spoon makes it easy to stir the entire bottom of the pot.
Cauliflower Au Gratin with Cajun-Inspired Spices
- 3 lb head of cauliflower
- 1 tsp salt, divided
- 8 Tbsp margarine, divided (1 stick)
- 1/4 cup flour
- 3 cups skim milk
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
- 6 drops Tabasco sauce
- 2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
- 1 cup Italian bred crumbs
Method and Steps
- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 9″ x 13″ casserole dish.
- Wash, drain and cut cauliflower up into large florets, removing center stem.
- Add 1 cup water and 1/2 tsp salt to large sauce pan. Add cut up cauliflower. Bring to boil on stove, Then reduce heat to low, cover and gently steam for 10 minutes or until the florets are tender. Remove from stove, drain. Reserve.
- Add 4 Tbsp margarine to medium heavy pot on stove over medium high heat. When margarine is melted, reduce heat to low. Add flour. Stir and cook flour roux for about 1 minute; don’t brown the flour.
- Remove from stove. Add a small amount of skim milk, stirring constantly to break up clumps of flour. Press flour clumps against side of pan with wooden spoon until they are all gone. Gradually pour in more milk, stirring constantly until all the milk is added.
- Add cayenne pepper, Tabasco sauce and remaining 1/2 tsp salt.
- Return to stove over medium heat.Cook and stir constantly for 3-5 minutes until the sauce thickens and bubbles.
- Then stir in cheese and remove from heat.
- Transfer blanched and drained cauliflower to oiled casserole dish, arranging florets with heads up. Pour sauce over cauliflower and push gently between the cauliflower florets. Set aside
- Melt remaining 4 Tbsp margarine in microwave oven in small bowl for about 30 seconds. Stir in bread crumbs until coated. Sprinkle evenly over the cauliflower.
- Bake in oven for about 30 minutes until bubbly and the crumbs are browned. Check casserole after 25 minutes, don’t let bread crumbs burn. Remove from oven and serve.
Cauliflower nutrition facts //www.nutrition-and-you.com/cauliflower.html