Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin With Pancetta

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When I was growing up, the three kids in my family were not terribly fond of any vegetables apart from potatoes, and one of the ways my Mother would trick us into eating them was to cover them in a cheese sauce. Thankfully, as a teenager I outgrew my aversion to vegetables and, in fact, now as an adult I love every vegetable I can get my hands on, and truly enjoy creating new recipes for fresh seasonal vegetables picked from our garden or bought at our local outdoor markets. Though I have certainly outgrown the need to hide my vegetables in thick, gooey cheese sauce, I do love making a cauliflower gratin. A big casserole dish of warm cauliflower blanketed in a creamy sauce spiked with pancetta, then topped with crisp golden brown crumbs is true comfort food to me.

I love serving this dish with roasted or grilled meats, meatloaf, or sausages. In this recipe, I have stepped it up from my Mom’s boxed cheese sauce and start with a creamy bechamel sauce. I fold in some melting cheese such as Gruyere, Fontina, or Asiago, as well as some grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese. I like the addition of finely diced pancetta that has been fried until just crispy which brings some texture and a touch of saltiness to the dish. The dish is topped with breadcrumbs that I mix with additional grated cheese and seasonings and once baked the dish is a golden brown, bubbling casserole of creamy cauliflower goodness. Leftovers the next day are great enjoyed rewarmed at lunch, and you could also use broccoli in place of the cauliflower if you prefer.

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Buon Appetito!
Deborah Mele 2014

Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin With Pancetta

Ingredients:

  • 1 Large Head of Cauliflower
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 4 Ounces Diced Pancetta or Bacon
  • 4 Tablespoons Butter
  • 4 Tablespoons All-purpose Flour
  • 2 1/2 Cups Milk
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Dash of Nutmeg
  • 1 Cup Grated Fontina Cheese (See Notes Above)
  • 1/2 Cup Grated Parmesan or Pecorino Cheese

Topping:

  • 1 Cup Fresh Breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 Cup Grated Parmesan or Pecorino Cheese
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
  • Salt & Pepper To Taste
  • 2 Teaspoons Finely Chopped Fresh Parsley Leaves
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoon Olive Oil

Directions:

  1. Cut the cauliflower into florets, and cook in a large pot of lightly salted water until just fork tender, about 5 minutes.
  2. Drain and set aside.
  3. In a frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat and cook the pancetta until crispy, about 5 minutes.
  4. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon and set aside.
  5. In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat, then add the flour and stir until mixed.
  6. Slowly start to pour the milk over the flour mixture whisking continuously as you pour.
  7. Reduce the heat to low, then add the two cheeses, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
  8. Continue to cook, whisking often until the sauce is thickened and the cheese has melted.
  9. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  10. Pour a little of the sauce into an 8 x 11 inch casserole dish, then arrange the cauliflower and pancetta on top.
  11. Pour the remaining sauce over the cauliflower.
  12. In a small bowl, mix together the topping ingredients, rubbing the oil into the crumbs with your fingertips.
  13. Sprinkle the crumbs over the cauliflower mixture, then bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the casserole is golden brown on top and bubbly.
  14. Serve hot or warm.