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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Cheesy Cauliflower

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This cup of cheesy goodness brings me back to my childhood, when winters were for sledding and macaroni and cheese was my favorite food. This recipes gives it a grown-up twist with a made-from-scratch spicy aged cheddar cheese sauce. I substituted cauliflower for pasta because, let's be honest, pasta is really just a vehicle for the cheese. So why not use cauliflower? Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower are full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and sulfur-containing compounds like isothiocyanates and indoles that help our bodies detoxify. Strange as it seems, you'll never miss the pasta. And your kids will finally eat their veggies.

This basic recipe could be taken in so many different directions. You could use a different kind of cheese or a mixture of cheeses. You could stir in a spoonful of Dijon mustard or grate some garlic into the cheese sauce. You could add sautéed mushrooms, chunks of ham, green peas, fresh herbs, or spinach (frozen, thawed, and well drained). You get the idea.

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 5 to 6 cups of cauliflower florets and tender leaves and stems, cut into bite-sized pieces (about half a large head)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 5 ounces aged cheddar cheese, shredded
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground peppercorn
  • Cayenne pepper 

Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Steam the cauliflower until tender, about 10 minutes. Arrange the pieces in a single layer on a clean kitchen towel and set them aside to air dry.
  3. In a sauce pan large enough to contain the cauliflower (don't add it yet), melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk continuously until the mixture bubbles and starts to brown. This will take a few minutes. 
  4. Once the butter and flour have taken on a deep golden color, add the milk, little by little, whisking in each addition. Continue cooking until the mixture comes to a simmer and starts to thicken. Turn off the heat.
  5. Add the grated cheese, little by little, whisking in each addition. Once the cheese is fully incorporated and the sauce is smooth, season with salt, ground peppercorn, and cayenne pepper. Taste for seasoning and make any adjustments.
  6. Add the cauliflower pieces to the cheese sauce. Stir gently to coat them well without breaking them up too much. Transfer the mixture to a shallow baking dish or divide it among individual ramekins. Bake until hot, bubbly, and slightly browned on top, about 25 minutes. Serve immediately.

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