Cauliflower happens to be one of my favorite vegetables. This is another vegetable that my mom had in her garden in abundance while I was growing up, so it was frequently on the dinner table. My mom had a few different ways to prepare it, but most of the time she just turned it into a simple dish of cauliflower in a white sauce with a hint of cheese. Most of the time she served it along with boiled salt potatoes and Schnitzel or Fleischkuechle (they are a mix between a mini meatloaf and a burger). I still love eating it this way, but I also like to cook today's "kicked up" version.
I found this recipe in my trusty "Ich helf Dir kochen" book which I received over 20 years ago from my parents. I've added a few of my own touches to this recipe over the years, which makes this cauliflower irresistible, at least for my family. I always start by cutting up the cauliflower into florets and soaking them in a big bowl of salt water for about 30 minutes. One reason why I do this is because, growing up and harvesting the fresh crop from my mom's garden (which is completely organic and without commercial fertilizer) it wasn't uncommon to find that a little snail or the like had made its way into the lettuce or cauliflower. The salt water kills them, and lets them float to the top for easy removal. It is probably not necessary to do so today, especially if purchasing the cauliflower at a super market, but sometimes old habits die hard.
The cleaned cauliflower is then cooked "al dente" in a big pot of salted water that has a bit of milk added to it. The milk in the water helps preserve the white color of the vegetable. Make sure you don't overcook the cauliflower as it tends to get a "soapy" taste if it is cooked too much.
A white sauce is then made by making a simple roux. Reserved cauliflower cooking water is added to the roux and seasoned with salt, pepper, cayenne, and nutmeg (very important!). Freshly grated Swiss cheese is added, and the mixture is stirred until smooth. This is poured over the cooked cauliflower into a casserole dish and more Swiss cheese is sprinkled on top prior to baking.
Just like my mom, I love to serve this with boiled Yukon Gold potatoes. Sometimes I add a bit of chopped up ham to the cauliflower casserole for an easy fulfilling meal, but usually I serve it with some kind of protein on the side. Everyone loves this dish, and since cauliflower is on sale quite frequently for less than a dollar, it also makes for a fairly cheap meal. If you haven't had cauliflower in a while or only know it overcooked with a pat of butter on it, you should give this version a try, you won't be disappointed.
Cheesy Cauliflower Casserole
1 large head cauliflower
10 cups salted water
1 cup milk
For the cheese sauce:
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups reserved cauliflower cooking water
1 cup milk
Salt and Pepper to taste
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 vegetable bouillon cube
3 tablespoons heavy cream
6 ounces grated Swiss Cheese, divided
Clean and cut up the cauliflower into florets. Rinse or use method described above.
Bring saltwater along with 1 cup milk to a boil in a large pot. Add cauliflower and cook on medium-low heat for about 10-15 minutes or until "al dente". Drain, making sure to reserve 1 1/2 cups of the cooking liquid. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
For the cheese sauce: Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and cook for about 1 minute. Slowly add your reserved cooking liquid along with the additional cup of milk making sure to whisk constantly as you do so. Season with salt, pepper, cayenne, nutmeg, and bouillon cube and cook on low heat for about 10 minutes stirring occasionally or until thickened.
Add heavy cream and 4 ounces of the Swiss Cheese and stir until combined making sure not to bring the mixture to a boil.
Butter a casserole dish and add the cauliflower. Pour cheese sauce evenly over the top. Sprinkle with reserved Swiss cheese. Bake for about 10 minutes in preheated oven, or until the dish is heated through and nicely browned.
Adapted from: Ich helf Dir Kochen