Retro cauliflower casserole makes one-dish meal

Cauliflower and casseroles both factored into this blog’s previous post.

The question was which type of casserole to make for friends who could use a little mealtime help. Cauliflower came under consideration but didn’t make the cut for lack of ingredients to combine in a hearty main dish. So I used the cauliflower in a gratin, based on a recipe for “loaded cauliflower bake” posted earlier this year, to accompany some smoked chicken drumsticks for my family’s dinner.

Omitting the recipe’s bacon, I tweaked the other ingredients slightly to accommodate what I had on hand: whole milk, instead of reduced-fat; crème fraiche, instead of cream cheese; and the addition of some Swiss cheese to the quantity of shredded cheddar. I also liberally seasoned the cheese sauce with dry mustard, freshly grated nutmeg and white pepper, my go-to blend for béchamel.

Predictably, my husband raved over the dish’s creaminess and savor. And it wasn’t such a stretch for my 4- and 2-year-old sons to eat.

Since the success of that dish, I spied this cauliflower casserole, enhanced with ham, mushrooms and a breadcrumb topping. Given the massive ham in my freezer, a guaranteed source of leftovers, this recipe is bound to come into play over the next month. I’d also use any fresh mushroom, preferably wild-foraged, although this dish is unapologetically retro with its inclusion of canned mushrooms. Old-school American cheese may lend a distinctive flavor, but I think it would be delicious with Gruyere and Parmesan.

From Chicago Tribune food writer Jennifer Day’s repository of family recipes, cauliflower casserole is essential at the holidays. I’d make it a weeknight treat.

Tribune News Service photo

Cauliflower Casserole

1 medium head cauliflower, cut into florets

2 cups cubed ham, about 8 ounces

4 to 5 ounces sliced mushrooms, or 1 can (7 ounces) sliced mushrooms, drained

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 cups whole milk

3 slices American cheese, cut into narrow strips

3 slices sharp cheddar, cut into narrow strips

3/4 cup sour cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

Ground white pepper, to taste

1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons olive oil

Heat oven to 350 F. Butter a 2-quart shallow gratin dish.

In a saucepan of well-salted boiling water, cook the cauliflower until just tender; drain. Toss in a bowl with the ham and mushrooms.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat; stir in the flour. Cook, stirring frequently, until light golden-brown, for about 8 minutes. Whisk in the milk; cook, stirring continuously, until thickened, for about 10 minutes.

Take sauce off heat; add half of the cheese, plus the sour cream, salt and white pepper to taste. Return to heat; stir until cheese melts and sauce is smooth, for about 3 minutes.

In a bowl, toss together the breadcrumbs and olive oil until well-combined. Stir sauce into cauliflower mixture until well-combined. Scrape into prepared gratin dish. Layer remaining cheese on top; sprinkle with breadcrumbs.

Bake in preheated oven until bubbly and golden, for 30 to 35 minutes.

Makes 8 servings.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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