Warm memories

Dinner:  November 12, 2008

Growing up, there were certain dishes I always looked forward to eating when our extended family would get together on holidays. Aside from the obvious “anything Grandma made,” there were the bubbling, creamy, cheesy casseroles. One in particular, made by my Aunt Carmen, was a favorite: florets of broccoli and cauliflower, plus whole brussels sprouts, blanketed in a mixture of cream soup and shredded cheese, then baked. If there was ever a way to get a kid to eat her vegetables that was it, and I often had multiple servings.

So when I tried to think about what to do with the two heads of cauliflower I had brought home from the farmers’ market (so pretty I couldn’t resist them), my thoughts turned back to that dish. We had always had it as a side to roast turkey or baked ham, but why couldn’t it stand alone as a main course?

I haven’t kept canned soup around for years now, so my first step was to make a white sauce. We had four strips of Pat’s Pastured bacon in the fridge, so I cut that into chunks and fried the pieces until crisp, figuring I’d use the fat for my roux. While the bacon drained, I whisked some flour into the bacon fat, then added equal amounts of milk and cream, stirring it until it was well-blended. I added a pinch of salt and some Herbes de Provence, then the cheese – about a cup of Morbier, diced into small cubes.

When the sauce was smooth and the cheese melted, I added the crispy bacon pieces and poured the mixture over my cauliflower (lovely purple cauliflower and spiky green Romanesco, broken into florets) in a buttered baking dish. I had spritzed an ounce or so of white vermouth over the cauliflower first, so after I added the cheese sauce I tossed everything through until it was mixed and the cauliflower evenly coated. I covered it with foil and placed it into a 450 degree oven for about 20 minutes, then took it out, removed the foil, and covered the top with very coarse fresh breadcrumbs. It went back into the oven for another 20 minutes or so, until the top was well browned and the sauce bubbly.

I went a little light on the salt, anticipating that the bacon would be saltier than it was, but it could have used a pinch more. I also think this would have benefited from a little mustard in the sauce – dry or Dijon – to balance out the richness of the cream and cheese. Overall, I’d say this was a success, if not for the faint of heart.

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13 thoughts on “Warm memories

  1. What pretty purple cauliflower. I do like mustard (and a sprinkle of nutmeg) in bechamel…

    No need to cook cauliflower first? Sounds easy and delightful, and possibly slightly more healthy than the macaroni and cheese I usually make when I’m in a baked-goey-creamy mood.

  2. Jennifer Hess says:

    maggie – I didn’t cook the cauliflower first, you are correct! I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but I did want it to retain a bit of texture – that’s why I added that bit of vermouth to give it a bit more liquid to cook in. And happily, it worked! It was fork tender but not mushy at all.

  3. you put me to shame, you know what i would have done if i needed soup and i didn’t have any? SOY SAUCE.

    now that you are outside of NYC, with all the cash you are no doubt saving you can finally open that Diestchyblossom Cafe we’ve all been waiting for!

  4. Mmmmmmmm yummy that sounds, and looks, delicious! I made roasted cauliflower Monday night…mmmm….gotta make some more soon! also (note to self) look for some heads in different color. I agree about the mustard…would use a pinch of dry Coleman’s.

  5. Laura says:

    I was totally inspired by this last night. I didn’t have enough cauliflower (or such beautiful cauliflower… sigh…) to fill an entire casserole, so I added some tiny shell pasta and ended up with a kinda mac-and-cheese + creamed cauliflower thang. And it was GOOD.

    So thanks for the delicious dinner! :)

  6. christine says:

    I made this the other night, although not exactly by the recipe (it’s a compulsion) and it tasted great. The liquid that cooked out of the c’flower made the sauce a little thinner than I would have liked, next time I’ll make more roux. Thanks for the idea!

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